By Scott Meacham
Across Oklahoma, our college and university students, who have been pulled from pillar to post these last few months, are gearing up for internships. The time is right for Oklahoma’s startups and corporations to get in the hunt.
The OCAST (Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology) Student Intern Partnership Program application is a great way to start. The application submission period is from May 17 to July 2. Business gain access to funding from $10,000 to $30,000 per year in salary match for one to two years.
For college students, the right internship can launch a career before they even graduate — and that’s the idea, to retain Oklahoma’s best and brightest students by matching graduates and undergraduates with a high-tech Oklahoma company to undertake an innovative project which benefits student and company.
Spiers New Technologies (SNT), the leading full-service provider for advanced battery packs used in hybrid vehicles, has deployed interns since the inception of the company. As SNT’s VP of technology, Bryan Schulz set the foundation for SNT’s internship program and has hired and managed dozens of student interns, with more than 20 of them from the OCAST Internship Program.
“We recruit the most curious and energetic and then employ them full time in the summer and ten hours a week during school,” said Schulz. SNT eventually hires many of the interns full-time.
“When SNT was just getting started” he said, “interns worked on whatever needed to be worked on. Our first interns put together a crane from pallets of used parts from an industry surplus store. We are flat and we grew so fast that interns here have the opportunity to do the same engineering work on their own projects that we have technicians and operations people do. They are able to do things at Spiers that they normally wouldn’t get to do for many years.”
Tyler Helps, director of business development at SNT, came to Spiers as a graduate student intern in 2015.
“A friend mentioned a cool opportunity to work at a startup company,” Helps said. “I showed up for the interview but I couldn’t find the building. There was a guy sitting at a picnic table. Do you know the SNT building is, I asked him, and he pointed to this construction site. There were no walls, just studs, a grinder was going and some saws. This was not what I thought I had applied for.”
As it turned out, the guy at the picnic table was Spiers himself. That’s where the interview took place. “He asked me why my car wasn’t electric,” Helps said, “It was the most informal and best interview I have had.”
Helps signed up for the summer, graduated from OU, and has been at Spiers ever since. As an intern, he helped build a service line for Toyota Prius and scaled it from zero to 1,000 batteries in six months. That included building the tools and software to make the whole thing work, including a robot and the machine the robot uses.
“What we were doing was so cutting edge,” said Helps, who authored a white paper that he presented in a series of regional and then national undergraduate research competitions. Ultimately his work earned four undergraduate research awards.
“I got this job and that opportunity because OCAST funded a project at SNT five years ago,” Helps said. “Just yesterday, we had a project that a customer wanted us to do. It is nothing like we do now, and that’s perfect for us. We are geared for the impossible.”
Companies that plan and commit to successful internships enjoy benefits for years.
When you visit Spiers New Technologies, you will see their customers’ names and logos on display: GM, Ford, FCA, Nissan, Land Rover, and more. There’s a real connection in the quality of these brands and the quality of SNT’s team — many of whom started as interns, thanks to the OCAST Internship Program.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.