VAI Internships Set Good Example

July 3, 2003
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Talk of a sputtering Life Sciences Corridor in West Michigan is misplaced.

Yes, Gov. Granholm’s funding cuts for the initiative this coming year are disheartening and threaten potential problems for a few years down the line, especially if the reduced funding becomes the norm and not the exception. And, yes, the advent of the Van Andel Research Institute has not spurred the explosive growth locally some had hoped for immediately.

But patience is a virtue, and the future is starting to take shape in Grand Rapids. Grand Valley State University’s bright new Cook-DeVos center is the latest physical example of that movement.

Maybe even more important, however, is the formation of a solid base of Life Sciences thinkers that are being nurtured in Grand Rapids.

The VAI’s decision to sign on a whopping 39 interns for this summer may be the best sign yet that West Michigan will soon take its place among the Life Sciences cities of the world.

Even more important, however, is where these student interns are from. The bigger schools like the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Central Michigan University and GVSU are represented, but the smaller liberal arts schools have a place at the table, too. Students from Aquinas, Calvin, Grand Rapids Community College, Hope and Kalamazoo College also will be assisting VAI scientists in basic research.

The program was started three years ago and helps students understand research methods, instruments and testing procedures and how test results contribute to a larger research project. It’s real-world training in the best of supervised Life Sciences settings.

Much has been made about having a work-ready work force for West Michigan’s many and varied industries. This is especially true in the “New Economy” sectors, such as Information Technology and Health Sciences. But it applies to every part of the region’s makeup, from manufacturing to financial services.

Businesses across the board this summer should take it upon themselves to follow the VAI’s example and get student interns in place and learning the “real-world” mechanics of how business operates.

The immediate payoff for students is obvious, but the long-term payoff for business is far more beneficial.

And, maybe even most important is the payoff for the community as a whole.

What’s exciting is that many of these VAI interns are from the area and now will have the opportunity to stay home, or as Granholm put it to the displaced Pfizer employees, “stick around,” and enhance the intellectual property of West Michigan.

The region long has been regarded as a wonderful place to live. Internships like those afforded by the VAI will help teach a younger generation that it’s a great place to work, too.     

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