STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education and precision manufacturing are the way of the future to grow the Maine manufacturing sector back to being a key provider of good-paying jobs. In fact, one can strongly argue that it could be the anchor point of our next generation to create companies and jobs with our manufacturing DNA.

In support of both critical issues, the University of Southern Maine is launching an innovative new student internship program directed at supporting the needs of students to find gainful employment after graduation, as well as providing local Maine companies an opportunity to hire new college grads with experience.

Working with industry and community partners, USM’s College of Science, Technology, and Health will offer students up to six months of career experience in their chosen field while enrolled as USM students. This internship program will leverage USM’s unique geography in Greater Portland to establish USM as an innovative center of higher learning and a partner with Maine businesses.

In doing this, USM desires to establish itself as a partner to the community at large and to partake and leverage further efforts to get kids interested in STEM, thus aiding economic development initiatives undertaken by private industry and the state of Maine itself.

USM not only sets a precedent for establishing a forward-leaning program here in southern Maine that augments the already valuable work being done by the community colleges, but also further enables the entire University of Maine System to bring to bear its footprint to making the future matter to Maine students.

We strongly believe, in light of the demographic, social and market factors, that STEM and internships are the cornerstone for economic and workforce development in Maine.

The benefits of this program are many. Students will get an opportunity to gain work experience and earn money for school. Companies will be able to establish a pipeline for new college hires with experience. USM will have an opportunity to attract the best and brightest students from high school to its STEM programs, keeping them in Maine.

The program will be flexible around the needs of the students and companies and establish a partnership between the university and business with the goal of workforce development, rather than a pure academic experience for the student.

The goal is for students in the program to gain an estimated 2,000 contact hours of experience in their field of study with academic credits. Students will be able to gain resume-worthy experience working on meaningful value-added projects that align with their field of study. Internships also give the students a chance to learn the social process of working with a company, something difficult to get while in the classroom. This will be important to their success later on. The world is progressing at a rapid rate, and we need to stay aligned with that pace.

For business, this will be an opportunity to meet and work with bright, talented students who are eager to learn and be able to work alongside your regular employees. Our experience working with interns as a plant manager and CEO in technology-based companies was very positive and mutually enriching. We were able to assign them projects that were critical to our business and had a direct impact on our bottom line. A major plus for the interns that we hired after graduation was how fast they were assimilated and the high retention rate.

As importantly, the interns are given the tools to be forward-leaning, which translates to learning how to deal with customers and addressing market needs, being part of a progressive product-development team, and understanding the limits to their own creativity. They learn that those limits are due to their own fears, which they can overcome. They can create their own jobs and hire people and continue to make Maine a vibrant place to live in by becoming leaders in its economy.

USM is taking an innovative step forward to add an experiential-based learning experience to the STEM programs that work both for the student and the company. This is about jobs, for us and for our kids. With all the self-inflicting negativity floating around, we think it is vitally important to share these positive efforts as well.

– Special to the Press Herald.


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