On a gorgeous Friday afternoon in the peak of Michigan vacation season, a group of high school students weren’t at the beach or at home playing video games, they were hard at work in a corporate conference room at Toyota Research & Development’s Ann Arbor facility.
The students were interns in a pilot program Toyota organized through the University of Michigan’s Wolverine Pathways program. With a promise of free tuition at U-M for students from Detroit, Southfield and Ypsilanti who complete the enrichment and academic program, Wolverine Pathways partnered with Toyota to provide hands-on, real world experience to high school rising Seniors.
Toyota was all in. The company has a strong commitment with U-M to support programs and scholarships that promote access and diversity in STEM fields. Providing internships for Wolverine Pathways students was a perfect fit.
Looking out at a sunny field, Shaneja took a deep breath, approached the front of the conference room, and started her presentation. All of the students created and narrated a slide deck describing their summer work at Toyota, advice for Toyota for the next cohort of students, and some of their key takeaways from the experience.
The students demonstrated a strong working knowledge of the business operation, how their work fit into the company’s mission and culture, and showed the respect and camaraderie between the students and their Toyota teammates that they developed over the summer.
Elizabeth Ajaero learned a lot about paint and paint quality when she worked in the materials engineering department on the Erichsen paint borer project to determine accurate measurements, develop an instruction document, and teach engineers how to use the machine. She says she will never look at paint the same way after all she’s learned this summer. She also shared, “I learned that working in an office involves a lot of interaction and communication skills, not just sitting at a desk.”
Shaneja Wimes learned about many aspects of Toyota’s prototype division during her internship including the Water Leak Evaluation method, Rapid Prototyping, Part Procurement and Weld & Paint Engineering. She encourages future students to ask a lot of questions and take notes.
Nevaeh Haygood spent her summer linking vehicles from consumer reports and parts into a database. She shared, “I learned that every idea is important – there are no bad ideas. What I learned this summer at Toyota can be applied in many different aspects of life, not just in the auto industry.”
Her internship helped her connect the dots between school and work: “My ‘a ha’ moment happened on a tour of the safety lab when the technician showed me how the math I learned in high school is directly used in the safety lab.”
Jacob Distelzweig worked in the transmission evaluation group, where he says, “It was interesting to learn the job functions and how they differ between engineers and technicians. I understand now how those roles work and how they help a company to run smoothly.”
Maddy Czajka spent her internship learning the overview process of making a whole car and collecting data on Toyota SUVs. She said, “I learned that developing a car takes a lot of time and energy. It takes about three years – that’s as long as I’ve been in high school!”
Many of the students talked about wanting to do this, but Maddy was able to see a rear collision test in action, something that registered as a highlight of her summer.
The students echoed a lot of the same takeaways, which serve as sound words for all of us to remember: “I learned that the most important thing is to do things right the first time, and that collaboration is key to getting things done.”
They recommend that future interns remember the importance of asking a lot of questions, being open minded, and always doing your best – don’t reject an opportunity to learn something new.
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Jeff Makarewicz, the Group Vice President for Vehicle, Quality & Safety Engineering at Toyota Motor North America was in the room for their presentations. He comments, “All of these students did a remarkable job and we were very impressed with their contributions and professionalism. They didn’t seem like high school students. We see so much value in this program and hope to continue and build our relationship with Wolverine Pathways.”
Both partners are thrilled with the outcome from this summer experience. CaVar D. Palmer Reid, Ph.D, the Program Manager for Wolverine Pathways shared, “Wolverine Pathways students deserve opportunities to explore a variety of careers with high quality organizations and have their eyes opened to new possibilities that can shape their college thinking. The folks at Toyota provided the ideal environment for this growth and reflection to take place. Our scholars were supported by their mentors and challenged by their assignments. The opportunity to be a Toyota employee— both in name and in practice— was a path defining experience for them. I’m grateful for every member of the Toyota team that made this a reality. Wolverine Pathways is committed to making this partnership even better going forward.”
These teenagers clearly learned – and taught – during their summer internship with Toyota, and all who participated in the program became stronger people and better employees through this experience.