Internship program initiative: tapping into talent from underrepresented communities

Posted by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation on October 2, 2018

The generational and diversity gaps a given industry faces can create challenges in talent development and recruitment. For the water industry in particular, targeted efforts to recruit talent from underrepresented groups can bring a broader talent pool into the industry, and ultimately benefit the industry as diverse perspectives lead to greater innovation.

With funding from JP Morgan, The Water Council launched an initiative to provide internships for students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Milwaukee’s water tech hub. The initial partner for the pilot round was Tuskegee University in Alabama.

During the “Building the Future Water Workforce: Tapping into Talent from Underrepresented Communities” session at the Water Environment Federation’s Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC), students described their internship experiences at the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), a regional government agency that provides water reclamation and flood management services in the greater Milwaukee area; Stonehouse Water Technologies, home of the smallest and smartest water purification technology; and A. O. Smith, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of residential and commercial water heaters and boilers.

“I learned from my professor about this opportunity with The Water Council, and at that time, I did not know anything about the water industry. I took a leap of faith hoping to receive an internship,” said Kyndal Luster, who interned for MMSD. “Where we come from at Tuskegee University, they don’t really push for the water technology industry. Now seeing this industry, it has opened up a whole new avenue for a career path.”

“This internship taught me different ways of networking which me provide me tools and opportunities I wouldn’t have been exposed to,” said Leroy Burton, who interned for Stonehouse Water Technologies.

Brandon Culpepper, CEO and president of PeppNation Sports Leaderships Camps, worked with The Water Council as the liaison with the students and coordinated with employers for career development. The Water Council and Culpepper had the opportunity to work with several Milwaukee-based partners as well as employers to make sure the students not only had great opportunities for professional development, but a great social experience as well.

“This summer, we exposed Tuskegee engineering majors to the water industry—a predominantly white male industry—and through ongoing support, they flourished,” said Culpepper.

This initial pilot brought five Tuskegee engineering students to Milwaukee for a 10-week program, with the goal to inspire these students to pursue a career in water and potentially even receive a job offer following the internship.

The students on the panel included:

The Water Council has student chapters at the local universities and two high schools to create pathways for students who are interested in water industry and to connect them with member companies and opportunities in the water industry locally in Milwaukee.

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