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Detroit internships turn students into ambassadors

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

After Carly Getz graduated from Syracuse University in 2013, she surprised her family and friends by moving not to New York or Boston, but to Detroit.

Getz said she had plans to intern for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan for three months and then move back to New York. But today, she is a public relations specialist for Blue Cross and recently purchased a house.

Quicken Loans interns Ariana McCowin, 19, front, and Allie Stewart check out the food options at Internpalooza. Quicken Loans has 1,000 working in Detroit, up from 700 four years ago.

“Detroit is a hidden gem for young professionals,” Getz said. “I thought it was incredible that I, fresh out of college, could afford to live in the center of a major city.”

As Detroit’s business scene continues to grow and the story of its emerging turnaround spreads, more young people are coming to work in the city. Metro Detroit companies are taking advantage by expanding internship programs and turning college students into Detroit ambassadors.

“Not only do they get experience in an industry that they have an interest in as a future career, they get to explore a new city,” said Kerry Doman, CEO and founder of After 5 Intern Program, which organizes after-work events for summer interns. “It’s an incredible opportunity to share Detroit.”

In Metro Detroit, several companies said they are expanding their internship programs. Grow Detroit’s Young Talent, a citywide summer jobs program, hired 5,600 14-to-24-year-olds in 2015 and has received 11,000 applications this year, with a goal of 8,000 participants. The After 5 Internship Program has increased from 600 to more than 3,000 participants since its inception five years ago.

Getz said interning in Detroit — and living downtown — allowed her to meet new friends and do things like go to restaurants, shop and do moonlight yoga in the park.

“I had friends in other cities who were living paycheck to paycheck, so they couldn’t afford to experience the city,” Getz said. “Here, we have this city that’s full of great people that’s affordable.”

McKenzie Doig, a recent graduate of Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, is interning in human relations for General Motors this summer. GM provides housing to its interns in the city, and Doig said she loves that she can walk to work and many places downtown.

Not only is Doig getting a test-drive of the Motor City, she is also getting experience from an international corporation and making her mark on it. Savvy with Qualtrics, a survey website, Doig is soliciting her fellow interns for feedback, advice and comments to create an online hub for the internship program. Her knowledge of Qualtrics is also contributing to an upcoming GM seminar.

“You’re not limited by your job description,” the Syracuse native said. “You get to use your own creativity and explore your own path.”

Brittany Palubiski, GM’s manager of interns, said GM can learn from students’ fresh perspective and the research they are doing at their universities.

GM has 750 interns nationwide, most of whom are in Metro Detroit. Quicken Loans has 1,000 working in Detroit, up from 700 four years ago. Blue Cross hired more than 200 students for the summer, and DTE Energy has more than 400. Ford Motor Co. has increased the number of its interns by 6 percent; this summer, it has 650 interns.

LaNeisha Gunn, Quicken Loans’ leader of college recruiting and intern programming, said just four years ago students at recruiting events would hear “Detroit” and walk away, but bringing students to the city has shown a different face of Detroit.

Central Michigan University graduate Janelle McLaughlin of Shelby Township is interning on the events management team at Quicken Loans. She said before her internship, she knew Detroit only for Tigers baseball and Lions football games.

“Interning down here, I realized how much I was missing out on,” McLaughlin said. “Something is always opening every day, so it’s exciting to be a part of it, too.”

Wayne State University student and Detroit native Gearramia Coffey said his Quicken Loans internship has given him an inside look at a corporation, as well as a look at his community and how to help it.

“I think this is one of the most amazing opportunities of my life,” said Coffey, who is working on an initiative that purchases and fixes old homes in the city. “I’ve learned how to take heed of my position and make a big, inspirational impact on those who look up to me.”