Focus, Higher Education, and Lakeshore

Summer housing program is a home run

Baker College partners with local employers to attract talented interns to the community.

August 21, 2015
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Baker College weight room
In addition to staying in the Baker College of Muskegon townhomes, summer interns at various Muskegon businesses also can take advantage of the school’s health and fitness facilities. Courtesy Baker College

Baker College of Muskegon helped open doors this summer by providing housing options for visiting students who are interning with West Michigan organizations.

The college partnered with four local employers to provide affordable housing for nearly 30 summer interns from colleges and universities across the country, in an effort to help advance workforce development in the community.

Baker gave interns the option of living in two-bedroom townhouses belonging to the college, due to a lack of affordable housing opportunities in the area. The college partnered with Eagle Alloy, Muskegon; Alcoa Power and Propulsion, Whitehall; L-3 Combat Propulsion Systems, Muskegon; and Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute, Muskegon.

It’s the second consecutive summer Baker has offered the housing.

John Workman, president of Eagle Alloy, said the company is pleased to offer housing at Baker College as a benefit to attract needed engineering and technical talent.

“Locating housing for summer interns used to be difficult, costly and complicated,” said Workman. “Baker College fills unused housing in the summer, the students love it, and there are advantages for them to get to know each other and relate their experiences.

“Most importantly, these potential future employees are getting to know Muskegon and making local connections.”

Mike Helsen, Baker vice president of student services and coordinator of the program, said the college is able to provide the housing because the student population declines in the summer. He said the college has been discussing the possible collaboration with local employers for the past couple of years.

“We had been discussing with some of our local employers the need that they have or the challenge they have in finding housing for the interns they bring in from other parts of the country, and last year one of the local companies, Eagle Alloy, contacted us,” said Helsen.

“We had some available space in the summer and we ended up with three interns last summer. It worked out very well for everyone. So we expanded it this year and were able to take on 29 interns for the summer.”

Baker College initially partnered with Eagle Alloy, GE Aviation and The Salvation Army in 2014 to place the summer interns in affordable student housing. Based on the success of the partnerships the previous year, Helsen said they spoke to a couple of local companies’ human resource directors and were able to fill up the additional beds for 2015 in roughly a week’s time.

“It was a benefit for the students because they had an affordable place to live; it was a benefit for the employer because they could bring in the talent they needed; and we had the space available so it was a benefit for us,” said Helsen. “We could have the students stay on our campus and occupy that space.”

The college also began looking more in-depth at providing housing opportunities for internships due to a National Science Foundation grant awarded to GVSU’s Annis Water Resource Institute, according to Helsen. Baker has entered into a three-year commitment with GVSU to provide housing for young science researchers from a number of colleges and universities throughout the country.

“(GVSU) applied for this grant three years ago and were actually denied because they were going to house them on their Allendale campus. The National Science Foundation said it was too far away from the location where they were doing the research, which is at the Annis Water Institute in Muskegon,” said Helsen.

“That is another reason we got into this because they had reached out to us to see if there was any chance we could partner with them. It helped prompt us to look more deeply at the internships.”

The 29 student interns represented at least 22 colleges and universities, including Central Michigan University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Navajo Technical University, Penn State University, Purdue University, Rutgers University, Texas A&M University, University of Michigan, University of Puerto Rico and University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

The engineering, research and technical skilled interns were housed on campus in townhomes and had access to the college’s fitness center, recreational facilities and campus laundry, and enjoyed such amenities as cable television, Internet and a full kitchen.

The cost of the housing was at the same rate Baker College students pay throughout the year. A majority of the interns received a stipend for living expenses, according to Helsen.

“It works out pretty well for them. The summer in Muskegon is a pretty popular time of the year. A lot of tourists come to the area so housing is hard to find in the summer, and if you can find it, it is fairly expensive,” said Helsen.

“This is a real benefit to the interns because they are able to get into a housing environment that is similar to what they have lived in the past, possibly, and it is at a more affordable price for them than what they were finding otherwise.”

The partnership also is beneficial for the companies in terms of their ability to attract young talent to the area, according to Helsen.

“These employers are looking to expand as part of an economic development process. They are hoping to bring back some of these engineering students to their company for future employment,” said Helsen. “West Michigan, in particular, is attracting more talent to grow their companies. (That’s) needed, as the skill sets increase every year to complete the jobs the companies have.”

Amy Heisser, director of human resources at Alcoa Power and Propulsion, said the internships at Alcoa actually are considered long-term job interviews.

“We recruit nationally in search of the brightest talent to join our organization, but they have choices. It’s important their time with us is a positive experience,” said Heisser.

“The Baker College partnership has been extremely beneficial to our internship program this summer. Our interns have developed a community outside of work.”

Baker College plans to offer the affordable housing for interns next summer and hopes to increase the number of participating students by 10 to 15, depending on the housing needs of the college’s student population.

“It was a win for Baker College because we had additional students living in our college and it also brought in a diverse student population. It gave our students a chance to meet other individuals,” said Helsen.

“We hope to have 45 beds available (next summer), and I don’t think we will have too much trouble filling them because we already have had other companies approach us after they heard about the current (program).”

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