The science, technology, engineering and mathematics internship program piloted last year at the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center Research & Design is expanding for its second year.
Columbia Works is a partnership between Scappoose and St. Helens high schools, the Northwest Regional Education Service District, OMIC R&D, and Portland Community College's new OMIC Training Center.
The eight-week summer internship program welcomed nine students last year, including eight from Scappoose High School. This year, the program will have 12 slots and will be accepting applicants from Scappoose and St. Helens.
Myronda Schiding is the director of the Northwest STEM Hub, a program within the Northwest Regional Education Service District. Schiding said Columbia Works is focused on expanding throughout Columbia County, but organizers want to work incrementally and focus on minimizing barriers to participation — like transportation from north Columbia County, for instance.
At 688 square miles, Columbia County isn't much smaller than neighboring Washington County (726 square miles), but it has only about 1/12th of its population. That sparse population is spread out. More than half of Columbia County's residents live either in rural areas — outside of St. Helens and Scappoose, its largest cities — or in smaller, more remote towns like Rainier, Vernonia and Clatskanie.
"How do we rethink how this opportunity is offered so that we don't have as many barriers for people to get into the opportunities? So that's the goal — we just haven't figured it out yet," Schiding said.
The program is able to expand thanks to funding from the Oregon Community Foundation, but those funds require matching dollars. Columbia Works organizers are soliciting donations and industry sponsorships for the program, through the PCC Foundation.
The program is also looking for mentors, who will lead the groups of interns. Last year, some of the mentors were staff at OMIC R&D, but non-staff mentors will receive a stipend for their time.
Interns will focus on one of three topics: 3D modeling, designing 3D images that can be made on a mill or lathe; developing robotics designs to use in manufacturing; and creating building manufacturing industry training materials using virtual reality or augmented reality.
The interns will work in groups with a mentor who has work experience in the topic they're mentoring for.
The interns will work out of OMIC R&D in Scappoose.
Last year, the program received nine applications, meaning every student who applied was able to participate. Schiding said that the pilot program was planned quickly and organizers relied heavily on guidance counselors to spread the word. But this year, with the addition of St. Helens High School and more community awareness about the program, they expect more applications.
A similar program in Clatsop County was piloted in 2018. In that program, Clatsop Works, and a similar one getting started in Tillamook County, interns are matched with specific industry partners. From its first to second year, the number of applications for the Clatsop Works program more than doubled.
Schiding, who has worked closely with counselors at Scappoose and St. Helens high schools through the development of the Columbia Works program, said that after meetings with local industry leaders, "it just didn't seem like that model would work well for the Columbia County population."
As the same time, OMIC R&D was growing and PCC was in the process of building its training center across the street. That center is set to open for classes this coming fall, after being delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Everything just kind of came together that this would be the way that the Columbia Works program would go," Schiding said.
"We're just so excited about this partnership," Schiding added. "This is a really amazing, amazing group of people that have come together to support this and make it happen."
Applications for internships are available on the program website, columbiaworks.weebly.com, and close on May 16.
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