Northwestern Mutual’s commitment to growing its STEM-ready pipeline starts early. Rather than waiting to start investing in internships at the college level, the financial services organization starts years earlier than other companies. Stacy Zaja leads the company’s K-12 STEM outreach program, hi, Tech, which includes a signature summer Tech Minicamp & Internship program for high school students in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area that features a 4-week tech bootcamp followed by a tech internship role.
Northwestern Mutual’s Minicamp initiative began more than five years ago and yields tremendous results. Over 40% have returned to the company to take an additional step on their tech journey such as continuing in their high school intern role as a contractor or being accepted into the company’s first-class college tech internship program.
This year’s cohort of 14 students, who just completed their junior or senior year of high school, represent seven Milwaukee-area schools. The students come from different backgrounds and their schools are largely located in underserved communities. Some of this year’s students shared that they applied for the program to further progress their knowledge of code and programming along with improving social and communication skills to stimulate working on a team and working with peers to achieve a common goal. While an incredible learning experience, the students are also paid throughout the summer as the company recognizes the value of the student’s work and that for many students the summer months are a critical time to work and earn money.
Northwestern Mutual Tech employees take the lead as the instructors – developing the lessons, special activities and projects while sharing their unique backgrounds to inspire the next generation. This year’s learning was guided by three lead instructors, along with dozens of employee volunteer instructors that included several Minicamp alumni who are continuing their journeys with the company as interns or contractors.
During the Minicamp experience, the students developed modern software engineering and testing practices, which they applied to build out the next generation of Northwestern Mutual’s client website’s Longevity Game, a tool that helps individuals understand how harmful habits can affect their health and longevity. The students worked on the coding and the technical side to make it a valuable tool again.
“It was incredibly rewarding to see our students work on a project that is of value to our company and have the opportunity to share that among leaders in the organization,” said Zaja. “The Minicamp and Internship is a unique program that I’m proud to lead because it truly has resulted in lasting impact on many of our students who may have never found their way into tech if not for programs like this,” added Zaja.