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Transportation internship program for women gets results

Andrew Schneider, Columbia Regional Airport manager, discusses a project with intern Tia Berg, a junior majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering at MU. Berg was paired with Schneider for the internship through the U.S. DOT’s Women and Girls Entrepreneurial Training and Technical Assistance Internship Program (WGIP).

Based on a successful pilot program at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., the U.S. Department of Transportation has expanded an internship program for women to its 11 Small Business Transportation Resource Centers (SBTRC).

One of the regional centers, located in engineering’s Lafferre Hall on the University of Missouri campus, falls under the direction of Charles Nemmers, director of the Transportation Infrastructure Center in civil and environmental engineering.

The Women and Girls Entrepreneurial Training and Technical Assistance Internship Program (WGIP) was funded for two years, through the winter 2012 semester. The program aims to both educate young women about the opportunities in the transportation infrastructure industry, and to inspire them to seek careers in engineering, science, math and business fields.

In the Fall 2010 semester, Denise Phillips, coordinator of the central region’s WGIP, began seeking out interested young women and employers in her five-state region.

“Students live in an isolated world,” said Phillips. “If all they come into contact with is academics, they won’t have an idea of how things take place in the business world. The benefit of on-the-ground experience is priceless.”

To date, 15 young women from MU, Wichita State University and the University of Kansas have been connected with in-term internships through this region’s WGIP program. This semester, MU students are working with Columbia Transit, the City of Columbia’s PedNet program and the Columbia Regional Airport.

To be considered, students must maintain a GPA of 2.8 or higher; submit a letter of interest, a third party evaluation and a transcript; and undergo an interview.

For their part, employers must create a position, supply workspace and provide an evaluation of the student and the program, once the internship has ended.  Internships pay a stipend of up to $1,000 per semester and, in some cases, also may gain college credit for their work.

Tia Berg, a junior majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering was paired with Andrew Schneider, Columbia Regional Airport manager for an internship at the airport.

“Tia’s biggest project is helping me with a rates and charges survey,” said Schneider, explaining that the project involves contacting other airports in a five-state radius to inquire about their fees for such things as landing, hangar rent and rental cars. The survey is intended to give him a feel for the industry standard so that the airport doesn’t overcharge, but also so that they get a fair return.

“The help that Tia is giving me with this project provides a real benefit. This would be just one more project on my plate,” said Schneider. “Pending the completion of this project, we will sign a new lease with Delta Airlines.”

Berg, who said she has a passion for aviation, would eventually like to work for an aircraft-manufacturing firm. She said she has learned a lot from the internship, even it doesn’t directly pertain to her major.

Besides the rate and charges project, Schneider has involved Berg in the process of hiring engineers for projects at the airport.

“I’ve been to City Hall to sit in on interviews for engineering firms for general contracting work, mostly for runway projects,” said Berg. “It’s helped me learn how the work world works, so once I get out into the real world, I’ll have that experience.

“Andy has really taken the time to explain things to me. The things I’ve learned about airports are incredible,” Berg said.

“I did my first internship in airport engineering,” said Schneider. “This internship offers a good insight for Tia into how an airport works. There are lots of moving parts.”

Phillips is working to identify businesses interested in hosting internships, and young women looking for a workplace experience for the WGIP program.

“Its very exciting for me to be able to help students gain this experience,” said Phillips. “And most of the students who apply really benefit from the financial help, so it is a win-win outcome.”