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The ProX student showcase culminated in awarding six student intern groups with cash prizes for presentations and exhibits related to their summer internship experiences. Two of the students who interned with Children’s Mercy Kansas City, Taiwo Awe, Olathe North Senior High School, and Sara Sadeghi, Sumner Academy of Arts and Science, were awarded a $2,500 prize for their project presentation. They celebrated with, from left, Esther George, former president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and Kauffman Foundation Board Chair, event judge; Missouri State Senator Shalonn “Kiki” Curls, event judge; (Awe and Sadeghi); and Dr. Darren Woodruff, senior director at The DeBruce Foundation, event judge.

ProX employers talk about the benefits of the program – not just for students – but for businesses

While ProX is making a name for itself as one of the largest paid summer internship programs in the country, what might get missed is the benefits to employers of all shapes and sizes in Kansas City.

Written by Amy Unruh

When ProX students took on the challenge of client projects and internships this summer, they had the backing of 130 Kansas City employers and business partners. More than a standard internship, ProX offers a partnership between KC-area high school students and local business partners who engage in a summer experience.

No one disputes that the internships are beneficial to students, but what might surprise you are the benefits to participating employers. With ProX stepping up to pay the student stipend, employers are free to employ students in relevant work and problem-solving from fresh perspectives without worrying about how to find or pay students.

The ProX experience supports organizations of all shapes and sizes, said Michael Robins, ProX program director. “We have a quickly increasing demand from students to participate in the paid ProX experience, and we need business partners of every kind. Students are looking to engage in large corporate settings, in small startups, in nonprofit organizations, and in every industry you can imagine,” Robins said. “We never want a potential business partner to think they are too small or too niche for our students. If the opportunity exists, we will do our best to find a student who matches it.”

Learn more about ProX from three employers who participated in the 2023 program: WeCode KC, Children’s Mercy Hospital, and Lead to Read KC.

WeCode KC

We planned for the students to work on a project but learned that they were more successful in shifting to a work-based internship. We treated them like employees, and they responded.

— Nicole Urban
Operations Director, WeCodeKC

ProX is “not just making copies and getting coffee,” according to Tammy Buckner, executive director of WeCode KC and a veteran ProX business partner. Buckner and her team at WeCode KC have engaged with ProX for two summers, and have retained some students beyond the ProX sessions. “We still have some of our ProX students working for us on student-led design projects, helping other organizations with things like website development projects,” Buckner said.

Nicole Urban, operations director at WeCode KC, managed most of the day-to-day operations with about 10 students this summer. ProX makes it easier, she said, than trying to create a program on your own for interns, but the employer still has to make a plan for what students can accomplish within the span of roughly June and July.

“We planned for the students to work on a project but learned that they were more successful in shifting to a work-based internship,” Urban said. “We treated them like employees, and they responded. Seeing their professional growth was very satisfying, but their personal growth was even more rewarding.” Watching students gain confidence that carries over to all aspects of life was one of the best results, Urban said.

And now, Buckner is happy that WeCode KC has a pipeline of young talent already familiar with the organization’s work and what it takes to be successful.

“You can’t baby them,” Buckner said. “You have to make them a real part of the organization and treat them as genuine employees. That’s how they learn what it takes to work in your industry, and their professional growth will be valuable to you and to the students.”

Children’s Mercy Hospital

“We didn’t have a budget for student internships,” said Angie Richardson, talent acquisition program director at Children’s Mercy Hospital. “But ProX pays the stipend for their students, and that was a real selling point for us to try it.”

Children’s Mercy hosted students in multiple areas of the organization, from research to marketing. Richardson credits the ProX team and student mentors with making the process easier than tackling it on their own.

Access to a diverse talent pool through ProX was extremely valuable to the Children’s Mercy team. The program gave them an opportunity to host research interns in the Children’s Mercy Research Institute, exposing students to the world of medical research and adding often under-represented perspectives to the research team.

Andrea Bradley-Ewing, senior director for Community Engaged Research at Children’s Mercy, planned the projects and supervised the students, who worked to develop resources to enhance and support students of color through the application process for medical schools.

“These students shared their own challenges in finding opportunities in healthcare, and as a result, they wanted to create a set of resources so other students could navigate the healthcare job search with greater ease and success.”

The outcomes, Bradley-Ewing said, were beneficial for the students but also for our organization and for future students. The planning is important, Bradley-Ewing said. “When you are planning your year or quarter, you simply add in plans for what interns could do. That first step is critical to the outcomes. We could have done a minimal job preparing, but we wouldn’t have gotten the product we ended with.”

Lead to Read KC

Lead to Read KC worked with five students who were a mix of ages and from different school districts. Their social, racial, and economic diversity proved to be one of the key learning features during the project as Community Outreach Program Manager Linda Hughes scheduled literacy events and community engagement activities all over Kansas City.

[The ProX students] brought a fresh perspective and energy to the work, and helped us see things differently.

— Linda Hughes
Community Outreach Program Manager, Lead to Read KC

“The students definitely learned from each other,” Hughes said. “They were going to parts of the city they had never been to before, learning about the barriers to literacy and what it takes to engage younger children in reading outside of school.”

Hughes said the small nonprofit organization had to put in some extra work to get ready for the students, but the “rewards far outweigh the effort.” Hughes planned for a project-based experience in literacy and spent the first two weeks laying groundwork for students to understand the literacy landscape of Kansas City’s early elementary students.

“After we helped the students see the needs, they just took off and flew with the project,” Hughes said, calling the ProX experience something that Lead to Read was honored to do. ProX staff and mentors are like partners, Hughes said, adding learning about professional life with topics like professional dress, how to be on time, how to use email, and following up with work communication. “The essence of it was professional learning in real time.”

Some of the Lead to Read students have told Hughes they want to be part of ProX again next summer, and she’s hoping they will come back to work with Lead to Read. “They brought a fresh perspective and energy to the work, and helped us see things differently,” she said.

The Lead to Read interns won first place in the 2023 ProX Showcase after presenting the results of their summer project: solutions to identify and remove barriers to literacy for early elementary students in Kansas City.