Students find industry experience through STEM internship

Piper Cleveland
Guest Writer

In 2018, 79 Minnesota State University, Mankato students applied for SciTechsperience, a state-funded internship program designed to connect college STEM majors to paid internships in small Minnesota companies.

Through the program, these ambitious future professionals receive access to an online database of hundreds of STEM internship postings designed to put the power of direct employer contact in the student’s hands.

No weeding through irrelevant listings that don’t relate to a specific major, or sending out applications without knowing exactly who will receive it. SciTechsperience gives students a resource that allows them to both tailor their internship search and utilize the direct employer contact information provided with each job posting.

Many of the MNSU students who went through the SciTech program this last year successfully secured paid internships in their field of study. Several were engineers, anxious to receive hands-on work with real-world industry challenges sure to spark their problem-solving minds.

One such problem-solver, was Mechanical Engineering major Brendon Speck, a SciTechsperience pro and third-time user of the program.

Brendon Speck Three years ago, Speck started his engineering internship with LaValley Industries in his home town of Bemidji, Minnesota. Speck, a senior in MNSU’s Iron Range Engineering Program, was brought on to assist with research and development for the LaValley TONGHAND, a tool for the horizontal drilling industry.

Since 2015, Speck has been actively involved with the TONGHAND’s development: designing key components one summer and making modifications and updates the next. During that time the TONGHAND would go on to win three international awards including the 2017 Iploca New Technology Award.

“One of the coolest things for me was when I was here in 2015. I got to do design work for the TONGHAND, specifically the arm’s roller wheels,” Speck said. “And when I came back here the following year for my second internship, I got to do service work on the machine itself.”

Speck’s service work took him across the country, to test the equipment, train others on how to operate it and provide maintenance when necessary.

“I was actually replacing parts on these, seeing what I liked and what I didn’t like from my previous designs. Being able to go from that prototype phase and see the machine being built, come into play and then get to work on it, that’s very important,” said Speck.

An Incentive to Hire Speck may not have found his dream internship opportunity if not for the added hiring incentive that SciTech provides. Funded by the state, SciTech reimburses employers for half the interns

wages (up to $2,500) when they hire through the program. In this way, SciTech recognizes the small-company struggle of finding and bringing in new talent, like Speck, at a competitive rate. Monteris Medical, a Plymouth-based biotech company, utilized the resource to its full potential when they hired four interns including MnSU Mankato Engineering Major Tres Wuerffel.

Tres Wuerffel Wuerffel found his stride at Monteris Medical by connecting with its mission to create technology that would allow neurosurgeons to ablate (treat with heat) brain lesions and tumors, which are otherwise difficult to approach via traditional methods.

Wueffel’s job was to support the product and process development of components of the NeuroBlate system, Monteris Medical’s procedure that employs a robotically controlled, directional laser technology to treat brain tumors.

Although most of his projects involved precise procedures and complicated manufacturing processes, Wuerffel’s most memorable moments, he said, happened whenever he came up with the simplest solutions. He recalled how he and a fellow engineer once cut the price of machining in half when they realized the part they were struggling to design as a circle would be more effective as a square.

“You can put in all this work,” Wuerffel said. “but you can’t get emotionally attached to it. Because you might just immediately think of a blatantly better idea.”

Up in Bemidji, Speck would agree, saying, “That’s the best part, in my opinion: Coming up with an idea and making it happen.”

Whether working on a machine that can make and break joints up to 120,000 foot pounds of torque, or fine-tuning components of a minimally invasive neurosurgical system, these Mankato engineering students are putting their minds to work and building their skills for the future. As a program of the Minnesota High Tech Association, SciTechsperience exists to help build and maintain Minnesota’s STEM workforce. College students across the state can use the program to connect with small companies in their field, get hands-on experience, receive competitive wages, and form crucial industry relationships to aid them in their career.

Applications are open. With at least 350 wage matches available through August of 2019, influential internship experiences like these are easier to find with SciTechsperience. Learn more and apply at

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