It’s Summer on the Cuyahoga — Internship program sells students on Northeast Ohio with the hope they will make it their home

If you look at the website list of 240 past employers who have offered paid internships under the Summer on the Cuyahoga program, it’s like an honor roll of all the Northeast Ohio companies you’d ever want to know.

While signing up employers may be the most challenging part of the SOTC program for Executive Director Jean Koehler, it’s one of the more rewarding experiences.

“We are so fortunate to have those employers that will partner with us,” she says. “They are really supportive, and are passionate about increasing the talent pool in Cleveland.”

Starting with ABB and ending with Whole Health Management, the list runs the gamut of private companies, public corporations and nonprofits — all who have a special place in their heart for Cleveland.

Opening the door

But the core of the program is the premise that a Northeast Ohio summer internship may open the door for promising young talent. SOTC has secured 750 students for internships since it was founded in 2003, 75 percent of whom are not from the region. More than 110 returned to the region for a full-time job after their internship.

Eight colleges and universities participate in the program: Case Western Reserve, Colgate, Cornell, Denison, Ohio Wesleyan, Smith, University of Chicago and Yale.

Yale was the founding school, so to speak, and launched its Bulldogs on the Cuyahoga program in 2003.

“This was part of an effort by Yale alumni not just in Cleveland, but in several other cities that wanted to drive their undergraduates to their cities. So it’s kind of a partnership between Yale University and Yale alumni who wanted to get their cities on our undergraduates’ radar,” Koehler says.

As a sort of tribute to Cleveland, alumni from other schools became interested in promoting Northeast Ohio to their undergraduates and the program expanded. The colleges and the alumni associations help support the program. Each year’s class of interns, which is called a “cohort,” contains a mix of students from the schools. The largest cohort so far has been 79 students.

“It’s so important that these alumni groups support the program financially and also personally,” she says. “That is one of the things that distinguishes us from other internship programs; the internship is not just a job. They are connected to an alumni host.

“For instance, the Colgate student will have a Colgate alumni host, who becomes a connection to Cleveland. That person will not only welcome the student to Cleveland during the summer, but hopefully will redevelop a relationship and keep that student connected to Cleveland even after the student has gone back to campus.”

Out of the office, too

The intern’s experience in Cleveland doesn’t stop at the office.

“For the nine weeks of our official program, we do amazing things, from exposing them to the gems like the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, to having lunch with the top executives at KeyBank, to biking on the Metroparks Towpath, to meeting with community developers, so that these young people can also see the possibilities of the city and meet the people who are behind making Northeast Ohio a special community,” Koehler says.

AtTableEven if a student interns in Northeast Ohio through SOTC, but takes a job elsewhere upon graduation, it’s still seen as a positive event since the student becomes an unofficial ambassador for the region.

“Now the person is a proponent for Northeast Ohio: ‘Oh my gosh. Go to Cleveland; I spent a summer there.’ So it works both ways; obviously if they end up here, that’s great; but if they don’t, they become advocates,” Koehler says.

“Last summer, we had 79 interns and 100 percent of them left saying A) they have a better perception of Northeast Ohio after spending the summer here and B) they would recommend it to their peers.”

Another differentiation point is that SOTC internships offer free housing at Cleveland State University for the students.

“We’re also the only internship program where interns are required to live downtown as young professionals. This even draws some Northeast Ohio students to participate in the program,” she says.

“The last piece of the program is the whole connection with alumni. These young people will feel connected not only through the people they meet at our events, but also the people from their schools who have chosen to make Northeast Ohio their home.”

How to reach: Summer on the Cuyahoga, (216) 408-0423 or www.summeronthecuyahoga.com