ALMA — Among the losses caused by from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic this summer were internships students had secured in the hopes of building their resumes, gaining experience in their fields of study and earning a little bit of money.
The Alma College Career and Personal Development team in the Center for Student Opportunity (CSO) moved quickly to create some new opportunities for students whose internships had been canceled by launching a “micro-internship” initiative. A “micro-internship” is a short term, professional project that is completed remotely. The PlaidWorks Micro-internship Initiative provides grants to students to complete 20 to 40-hour remote service projects for non-profit and civic organizations. Students completing a PlaidWorks micro-internship gain work experience and explore career paths, while nonprofit host organizations benefit from skilled assistance with projects that support their mission.
“The micro-internship initiative has successfully matched students with time and talent to share with nonprofit organizations who can put their skills to work to complete meaningful professional projects,” said Carla Jensen, the director of career and personal development at the CSO. “Both the students and the host organizations have been really positive about the impact of this program.”
As part of the micro-internship program, students were given grants of either $250 or $500, by Alma College, to work with nonprofits for a total of either 20 or 40 hours over the summer. Students don’t receive college credit for the program, but they earn a new line on their resume and the opportunity to make connections with employers that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.
The United Way of Gratiot and Isabella Counties is one host organization. The United Way hosted two Alma College students for micro-internships this summer; one did a research project on the ways nonprofits can raise money in virtual settings and the second student explored how volunteers could spend their time in virtual settings.
Eli Hall, the organization’s director of development, said the two student interns, Sierra Douglas, of Wyandotte, and Jordan Jackson, of Redford, were “bright, hard-working and really creative,” and that the micro-internship program fit well with United Way’s structure.
“My primary job is fundraising, which means I’m often going around the community giving presentations. I don’t necessarily have the ability to supervise a student intern, which really limits what we can offer them,” Hall said. “The design of this program allows students to work without direct supervision, and they came up with some brilliant ideas that we are going to try to implement in the future. We would love to do something like this again.”
Micro-internships have been growing in popularity in recent years, but have really taken off in recent months in response to pandemic-related restrictions, Jensen said. The college reached out to alumni and nonprofit organizations in the community in order to find the right host organizations to provide meaningful work and service experiences to student micro-interns.
They found one such organization in the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) Office of Educator Excellence where Krista Ried ’94, president of the Alma College Alumni Board, works as the supervisor of professional educator certification. Ried said while her office doesn’t have the capacity to take on a full-time student intern, she was intrigued to hear about the micro-internship program.
“We haven’t had an intern in a long time, and there a lot of projects where we could use help.” Ried said. “The micro-internship really struck a chord with me because I knew there were talented students at Alma who could work remotely and help us out quite a bit.”
Ried’s office hosted Asia Patterson ’21, a double major in Spanish and new media studies, for work during the summer. A native of Ludington, Patterson said there aren’t many internship opportunities in her hometown that are relevant to her courses of study at Alma.
But at the MDE, Patterson was able to complete a project that involved helping K-12 teachers learn how to update their necessary certifications online through video tutorials posted on YouTube.
Patterson felt it was preparation for what awaits her after college.
“It was a good opportunity to learn about what the professional world is really like and weigh it against my expectations,” she said. “I found out how people at the MDE balance out productivity with creativity and I feel like that’s important to know as I learn about workplace behavior. It’s good to feel comfortable at work.”
Ried said Patterson and other students from Alma would be welcome to come to the MDE again in the future.
“We had a great experience,” she said. “Asia was great about following up and keeping track of things. I definitely hope the micro-internship program continues.”
In light of its success this summer, the college has extended the PlaidWorks Micro-internship initiative and is currently accepting proposals for projects to be completed during the break between fall and winter terms. Nonprofit organizations who would like to submit a project proposal may do so at alma.edu/plaid-works-internships.