MnTAP helps businesses save

Interns with the program help companies develop less costly practices.

Brent Renneke

The recommendations of students in a University of Minnesota internship program could save businesses more than $600,000, the program estimates. The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program, a summer internship program, places interns in companies with the purpose of recommending methods that promote environmentally safe and less costly practices. MnTAP provides technical assistance by giving recommendations on how to reduce waste and increase efficiency. The advice is tailored to the specific company they are helping. The assistance they provide is from a member of MnTAPâÄôs staff that has a primary focus on one specific area. âÄúFor instance, our health care specialists used to be in health care laboratories and do a lot of laboratory work,âÄù Krysta Larson, principal information representative of MnTAP, said. However, Larson said some of the recommendations involve a large project, which is not carried out by the MnTAP staff. âÄúThat is where we implement our intern program,âÄù she said. For the upcoming summer, the MnTAP internship program will hire eight interns, said Larson, who added that it is a fairly competitive process. âÄúCurrently I have 65 applications to fill eight positions,âÄù she said. âÄúWe donâÄôt have a hard time finding really good students.âÄù Once hired, the interns are assigned to a company to work on a project that ranges from developing a method to reduce pharmaceutical waste at an assisted-living center to finding a way to reduce energy use at a die casting company. The ultimate goal of the project is the implementation of the internâÄôs recommendation, Larson said. âÄúAfter following up with the company two years later, 50-60 percent of the companies have implemented the internâÄôs recommendations,âÄù she said. Kevin Erickson, a civil engineering graduate assistant, spent his 2008 summer helping Minnesota Energy reduce their water use. Erickson recommended recycling specific water streams using a special treatment. Erickson said he got a great sense of accomplishment from helping the company. âÄúIt was great to go into an industry that gets knocked for using too much water and being able to cut their water use by a pretty solid percentage,âÄù Erickson said. Biomedical engineering senior Maureen Holler developed new packaging for Atritech, a medical device company, that was less expensive and more environmentally friendly. âÄúI was very satisfied and proud of what I had accomplished,âÄù Holler said. âÄúIt was great to see my changes implemented and in production.âÄù Both Holler and Erickson had their recommendations implemented, but both also said it did not happen easily. Erickson said the biggest challenge was time. âÄúYou are only given a couple months to get into the company, figure out everything that is going on and try to advise and sell a solution,âÄù he said. For Erickson, the summer was not enough time to come up with his recommendation. In fact, Minnesota Energy hired Erickson for another six months to complete his project. âÄúI actually got to be involved in the implementation process,âÄù he said. âÄúA lot of students do not get to do that.âÄù Time was also the biggest concern for Holler, who said she started her internship in June with a deadline to submit her project for FDA approval by Aug. 15. Holler said that with the help of everyone at Atritech she was able to make the deadline. âÄúIt was exciting to know that my changes would be implemented immediately,âÄù she said. âÄúIt was instant gratification at its finest.âÄù Both Holler and Erickson said the challenging internship will be an invaluable experience in their future careers. Holler said the internship was especially valuable because she is interested in the medical device industry for her career. âÄúI learned so much about all the regulation and challenges which face a medical device manufacturer,âÄù she said. Erickson said the internship had him working in an actual industrial setting in which he had to accomplish a project that is presented to a board of directors or a president of a company. âÄúThe experience is so much different than doing problems in class and working in school,âÄù he said. MnTAPâÄôs internship program does not only help its students in their future careers; the companies involved are also positively affected. Mike Costello, Atritech director of operations, said the program does an exceptional job of selecting students that will perform well from day one. âÄúThe students are able to come up to speed extremely fast and start contributing immediately,âÄù he said. When asked if he would use the internship program in the future, Costello said he has no doubt. âÄúYou bet we would.âÄù Costello said. âÄúWe are always asking how we can use MnTAP again.âÄù