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By Ryan Horns
Private and public funding for the Ohio Means Internships & Coops (OMIC) program is uniting universities and community college students with regional industries in a win-win pilot “externship” concept. In Ohio, the goal is to close the skills gap, increase the number of college graduates, create more opportunities for diversity in education, and give the state a competitive advantage in the global marketplace. Innovation Director of the Institute for Materials Research (IMR) at Ohio State, Jay Sayre, PhD, said one success story is how the OMIC is teaming up with IMR to hold INNOVATE-o-Thon events and classes at the new Materials Innovation Lab (MIL) on Kinnear Road in Columbus.
It’s the cosmic dilemma of every ambitious college student: How can a freshman land that coveted internship without industry experience, yet gain experience without an internship?
A new collaboration between the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) and The Ohio State University proposes a solution.
Private and public funding for the Ohio Means Internships & Co-ops (OMIC) program is uniting universities and community college students with regional industries in a win-win pilot “externship” concept.
In Ohio, the goal is to close the skills gap, increase the number of college graduates, create more opportunities for diversity in education, and give the state a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.
Innovation Director of the Institute for Materials Research (IMR) at Ohio State, Jay Sayre, PhD, said one success story is how the OMIC is teaming up with IMR to hold INNOVATE-o-Thon events and classes at the new Materials Innovation Lab (MIL) on Kinnear Road in Columbus.
IMR is Ohio State’s largest non-medical research center, with more than 200 faculty members from 22 academic departments in five colleges, which is led by Executive Director and Professor Steven Ringel. He serves as the Faculty Director of Ohio State’s Materials and Manufacturing for Sustainability (M&MS) Discovery Theme.
The institute’s MIL program further recruits students from Ohio State, Marion Technical College, Central Ohio Technical College and Columbus State Community College, paying special attention to highlighting diversity.
Essentially, Sayre said, Ohio companies propose real-world materials and manufacturing problems or themes, solved by teams of undergraduate college students over 48-hour weekend brainstorming sessions.
After the dust settles, he said, the students gain industry experience by creating and pitching their ideas, plus companies walk away with almost a half dozen new engineering solutions.
“I immediately realized the potential to accelerate hands-on, applied learning to students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds,” Kathryn Kelley said, director of the Ohio Manufacturing Institute and PI of the Central Ohio OMIC program. “The opportunity exists to scale up these efforts by including students from multiple institutions working on industry projects. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a model that can be implemented in other regions of the state and nationally.”
The pilot program is already showing signs of success.
“We’re connecting students wanting real-world, experiential learning with companies wanting better access to the university and undergraduates,” Sayre said. “Our vision is to make innovation as strong as research.”
In Autumn 2016, Sayre said, students from an interdisciplinary engineering technical communications class in the Ohio State Department of Engineering Education piloted a collaborative educational model with representatives of Worthington Industries, a leader in the diversified metal manufacturing industry, and one of its customers, Select Sires, an Ohio-based industry leader in reproductive management solutions for dairy and beef producers.
Sayre said the undergraduate students needed to quickly become knowledgeable about a broad range of topics – livestock breeding, shipping regulations, even the cost, use and limitations of raw materials such as stainless steel and expanded polystyrene. The teams then presented their videos, prototypes, and recommended solutions to the industry partners at an evening event.
Bill Benson, director of the Advanced Technologies Innovation Team at Worthington Industries, said his group already hired an intern from the externship program.
“Over the course of the class we got to know these individuals. We had a couple come and visit us at Worthington who met a lot of the team,” he said. “They are fantastic young people.”
Benson said the solutions proposed by the students are already being explored by company engineers.
Based on that success, a partnership was developed with Paul Reeder, executive director of the Ohio State Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, to develop the weekend INNOVATE- o-Thon concepts.
“This really enables us to practice what we preach by bringing in external partners with unique problems and putting them in front of our students as part of an experiential learning opportunity,” Reeder said.
Sayre recalled a first-year engineering student at Ohio State, who participated in one of the INNOVATE- o-Thons with Procter & Gamble reps. By the end of the event, he said, the student had a solid P&G externship to put into his resume.
“There was a career fair the following Wednesday,” he said. “He lands these internships. He’s building up experiences.”
Kari Roth, senior technology integrator at IMR, said the externship program is opening up new routes for both students and industry to explore solutions.
“A lot of companies require that a student be at least a junior in college and already have some experience,” she said. “That’s really difficult to do. How do you get the experience?”
Sayre said the program also fits into students’ busy course loads.
“They don’t have to take a semester off,” he said. “Almost all of them seem to be landing internships that first summer after this. They are just getting picked up left and right.”
He said the program is putting students on a critical path.
“Students are working on real things, real fast,” Sayre said. “By the end of the weekend they are pitching ideas to a fairly senior level person in the company they worked with directly. You may not get these opportunities in a full internship.”
Roth said MIL typically creates five groups of students to work on each project, ideally to match the skills sets requested by the industry partner. It then goes a step further by enhancing the diversity of the team players.
“We know the importance of having wild cards in this experience too,” Sayre said. “We’re talking about some history majors and theater minors nobody would’ve asked for on the outset. Then they see their ability to tell stories or communicate effectively, or ask the questions that challenge the engineers and business majors to get outside their rigid box.”
Overall, Sayre said, the program allows them to connect with regional community colleges to attract an even wider array of students and backgrounds.
“We just think getting the broadest diversity of thought into these experiments is only going to improve it,” he said.
MIL is also trying to engage industry leaders, Roth said, not only learn what they want out of the program, but to create something enticing for students to participate in.
“It’s almost like a weekend interview,” she said. “You have the industry partners here, observing and seeing how students lead or participate with other team members. Those soft skills wouldn’t necessarily come out on a resume.”
Kelley said OMIC is fostering this program in six regions across the state, with the MIL program serving in its Central Ohio region.
Ryan Horns is Public Relations Coordinator at The Ohio State University. Twenty years of breaking news journalism, art, and multi-media content.