A year ago, STEM Majors Asma Ahmed and Austin Wong-Parker were down on their luck. Competing to apply for internships at large companies had left them with a handful of rejection letters and a month’s worth of wasted time. They might have given up their pursuit for industry internships if it wasn’t for the encouragement of a SciTech student outreach coordinator and the support of a STEM-exclusive internship program.
“This internship was probably the biggest turnaround in my life,” Wong-Parker said. “I don’t think I would have gotten this opportunity if it wasn’t for SciTech.”
“In November of last year,” Ahmed recalled, “I gave up on internships, I was just going to focus on school. And then towards the end of the school year, I talked with [the SciTech Student Outreach Coordinator] and started applying for SciTech jobs. It’s really exposed me to a lot of things that I wouldn’t have learned if I hadn’t applied for SciTech and used that avenue.”
After applying through the SciTech Internship Program, Wong-Parker and Ahmed quickly secured internships at the Comtrol Corporation, a New Brighton-based manufacturer that for the past five years has relied on SciTech to help find, hire and pay its interns.
By using the SciTech database and job board, Wong-Parker and Ahmed could focus their time and energy searching for industry-specific internships in local, small Minnesota companies. In addition, their SciTech applications came with an employer hiring incentive, offering SciTech businesses, like Comtrol, a 50 percent wage reimbursement, up to $2,500 per student, when they hire their interns through the program.
“SciTech is just such an amazing organization, it’s so easy to work with,” said Liz Clark, Comtrol’s Human Resource Manager. “All the students we’ve gotten from there have been super. And we love providing that internship experience for them. We’re very excited about taking on talent and helping them develop.”
Ahmed, a mechanical engineering major at the University of Minnesota, primarily worked with Comtrol’s HW Engineering Manager Fazlul Karim. They both gained from the internship’s mentor, mentee experience, trading Karim’s industry experience for Ahmed’s fresh ingenuity.
“Asma has been a great help for us,” Karim said. “When she joined us, we had a lot of scattered parts in the lab, so she came up with her own database system for how to organize them. That saved us quite a lot of time.”
Ahmed assisted Karim’s team in assuring that all components for their prototypes were accounted for, and, when new boards arrived, she helped inspect, program, test and assemble them to then be sent to awaiting Comtrol customers. During this time she also worked on creating quality reports, and production test procedures.
“One thing I really like about my role right now is that I get to bounce around between different things,” Ahmed said. “I’m not really set on a certain field, I’m just at the point where I want to know everything. And here I get to document, I get to solder, I get to order new products, you know, just jump on different projects that aren’t necessarily on one focus. Now at this point, I just keep getting fascinated by anything that comes my way. At the end of the day, I think everything connects on a bigger scale and I’m always trying to find that connection.”
While Ahmed was working in engineering, Wong-Parker put his skills in IT infrastructure to the test and assisted Comtrol’s Manager of Technical Support, Kurt Rees, with some of Comtrol’s coding initiatives.
“Initially we got Austin because we had an opening in technical support and he had the aptitude.” Rees recalled. “And since Austin communicated an interest around software development, we’ve recently started transitioning him into the application world so he can work on the software side.”
“I’m really fascinated in how a company, purely based off code, can function,” said Wong- Parker. “One of the reasons I chose Comtrol is because of their advancing technology and what drew me to the internship was learning IO-Link Masters. I hope I can work more with IO-Link as the company grows.”
For Wong-Parker, Ahmed and the team at Control, their SciTech internship experience has opened multiple doors for success and motivation. Even as a small business, Comtrol can afford to add these ambitious young minds to their team, getting the additional help they require while helping inspire Wong-Parker and Ahmed as they take their next steps toward their professional careers.
“I really appreciate this internship so much,” Wong-Parker said, “because it actually helped me turn around a lot of my struggles in school. The next semester, I got through it all. I picked up another hobby, I do volunteering for the government now, I volunteered for a computer class and at a PC repair shop. And that all stemmed from SciTech.”
Small Minnesota companies receive up to $2,500 to help pay a STEM intern. At least 350 wage matches are available through August 2019.