Mai Xiong of Hennepin County talks about her experience hosting Nimco Hussein (right) this past summer as an intern through the STEP-UP program. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Mai Xiong of Hennepin County talks about her experience hosting Nimco Hussein (right) this past summer as an intern through the STEP-UP program. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Internship program looks for business partners

Updated: February 17, 2017 - 12:26 pm

An internship with Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota had plenty of benefits for aspiring physician Lukeman Hussein.

It also was a pleasant surprise for his supervisor, Gretchen Williams.

Hussein spent the summer as a pediatric oncology research intern through STEP-UP Achieve, Minneapolis’ career-oriented summer-internship program for low-income youth. He helped build a catalog of pictures of lung tumors and got to shadow a pediatric oncologist, watching the doctor comfort a mother whose child was potentially facing a leukemia diagnosis.

“It was more than I asked for,” Hussein said of the internship.

Hussein was one of about 1,660 youth to be employed this past summer through Minneapolis’ three STEP-UP internship programs. Those youth, ages 14-21, worked at 225 different employers and earned a combined $2.7 million wages.

STEP-UP has employed about 24,000 young people since its inception in 2004, helping them get paid internships at large companies such as Wells Fargo as well as nonprofits, neighborhood associations and city departments.

The program helps youth develop professional skills and sharpen their career goals, Minneapolis and community leaders said at a kickoff event Tuesday. It also helps to build Minneapolis’ workforce, potentially lessening the state’s racial gaps, they said.

“It can’t be overstated just how world changing and broadening these experiences are,” said Danielle Grant, president and CEO of Achieve Minneapolis, which leads STEP-UP Achieve.

For Hussein, the experience made him want to go into trauma care. He said he liked the belief that his team had in him and appreciated getting paid.

“He exceeded our expectations,” said Williams, a senior research coordinator with Children’s Hospitals and Clinics. “He stepped up (and) did fantastic work.”

STEP-UP has three components: The career-oriented STEP-UP Achieve program, which is for youth ages 16 to 21, a developmental program where 14- and 15-year olds work in the nonprofit sector, known as STEP-UP Discover, and a more flexible but smaller program called STEP-UP Explore. The Explore program targets populations such as youth with special needs or limited English.

About 90 percent of the youth who go through training get a job, said Jeremiah Brown, director of the STEP-UP Achieve program. Youth in the Achieve program are also expected to participate in a mock job interview.

The program is open to youth ages 14-21 who are currently not enrolled in college and meet certain income guidelines. Nearly 90 percent of interns in 2016 qualified for free or reduced lunch, and about half were from immigrant families. Nearly 90 percent were youth of color.

Mayor Betsy Hodges, whose office has hosted STEP-UP interns, said it’s a value-added proposition for companies to host the interns. She said hosting interns can be a transformative experience for both the young people and the companies.

Minneapolis Supt. Ed Graff noted how interns develop social and emotional skills.

“This is really allowing these students to imagine themselves differently,” he said.

Nimco Hussein was a Hennepin County human resources intern this past summer thanks to STEP-UP. She said she felt intimidated working there at first but then started to feel more like a teammate than an intern.

Her supervisor, Mai Xiong, said Hussein did everything from coordinating countywide field trips to emceeing a career panel for students. Xiong said she and Hussein grew to have more of a mentor-mentee than boss-employee relationship.

“We definitely grew and learned a lot from each other,” she said.

Achieve Minneapolis and the city are still looking for employers that will host interns in 2017. Visit achievempls.org/become-step-achieve-employer to learn more.