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MKE Tech Pre-Internship Summer Program Wraps Up With Support From NMDSI and Northwestern Mutual Employees

Johnny Pak, Communications Lead

Sep 2, 2021

A diverse group of talented high school and college students recently went on a journey to discover how data and technology can impact the world. Driven by the MKE Tech Hub with support from the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute (NMDSI), 85 students started their adventure on June 9 in a 10-week summer pre-internship to learn about the impact of data, importance of diverse perspectives when developing technical solutions, art of storytelling, how to prepare for a tech-enabled career, and much more.

One of the goals was to give the Milwaukee-area participants real-world hands-on experience on data and artificial intelligence. While the focus of this pre-internship is on IT, the teachings go well beyond the hard skills according to Matthew Friedel, Curriculum Director, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Senior Lecturer, and NMDSI Affiliated Faculty Member. 

“We wanted to send several important messages to our students. One, you don’t have to be a programmer in R or Python, but you can learn and understand how data science and AI can have an impact in your future careers. Two, the soft skills are equally as important. One of the most important roles are storytellers both in business and academia. Someone needs to be able to communicate the importance of the technical information to management. Three, career paths are not linear. And finally, learning is a lifelong journey,” said Friedel.

An important part of this program that deserves a callout is the diversity of applicants. Of the 85 participants, 57% were female, 65% were BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), 29% were Latinx, 28% were Asian, and 18% were African American. It was an intentional tactic to get a diverse group of students because individuals behind the program such as Matt believe the solutions will be much better when it comes from a wide range of perspectives.

From June to August, Students met virtually every Wednesday for a series of interactive workshops and team-based group work. To supplement their learnings, they also received mentorship from Northwestern Mutual employees. A total of 7 volunteers participated as mentors throughout the summer including Data Scientist Kweku Kodua and Program Lead Michelle Fetherston.

“I was an international student once and although I never interned, I remember taking advantage of similar programs where alums gave their time to help myself and others. It felt right to do the same,” said Kodua.

 “I volunteered because I have worked with the coordinators before through The Commons skills accelerator program and know they put together a great hands-on learning experience for students. I appreciated the chance to interact with a great group of high school and college students from the Milwaukee area and help them with professional development—there are some talented young people in this area and I want to empower and support them to do great things in this community,” said Fetherston. 


After 9 weeks of virtual meets and group projects, each group got to show off what they learned in the Student Showcase. The projects ranged from how AI may help physicians make better decisions to measuring the impact of Northwestern Mutual’s data literacy programming to helping the Milwaukee Bucks utilize data science to increase the accuracy of player stats.

At the end of the pre-internship, 64 students received HERA (Higher Education Regional Alliance) badges which is recognized as an “accomplishment” on LinkedIn. Of those 64 students, 11 came from UW-Milwaukee and 2 from Marquette University. The NMDSI wants to say congratulations and well done!

To learn more about the pre-internship program and potentially connecting with these students, register and attend the MKE Tech Career Expo on September 14. The event is sponsored by Northwestern Mutual and it is a great opportunity for individuals interested in pursuing tech careers, networking, and gaining insights from industry experts.

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