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MISTI: The global internship program

MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) matches MIT students to internships with corporate partners around the world.
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Ricardo De Armas (left), MISTI/Covidien intern, and Cliff Emmons, Covidien vice president of research and development, tailored products, and emerging markets
Ricardo De Armas (left), MISTI/Covidien intern, and Cliff Emmons, Covidien vice president of research and development, tailored products, and emerging markets
Photo: MIT Industrial Liaison Program

The classroom and workplace are equally necessary components in the development of any student. The former teaches the fundamentals and theories of a specific field. The latter offers the chance to see how those theories play out with actual colleagues, bosses, and clients. Since markets can emerge from anywhere, that practical experience also needs to have a reach that extends beyond time zones and borders.

To address this, the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) serves as a program to match students with companies, universities, and research organizations around the world in summer internships. It’s not merely a positive component for the students, it’s a necessary one. “This is a shrinking world and you either know how to work in multi-cultural teams or you are just not going to be successful,” says Rosabelli Coelho-Keyssar, program manager of MISTI-Brazil.

Growing for 20 years

MISTI started in 1994 in two countries. Now it’s in 19, established in places like China, Germany, France, India, and Israel, and growing in others like Brazil, Chile, Korea, Russia, and South Africa. The program has placed over 5,400 students — currently about 550 a year — in fully-funded internships with over 450 corporate partners and research laboratories. The industries span automotive, energy, health, electronics, management, and finance sectors, and the companies range from BMW, Canon, Covidien, Ferrari, Google, and Intel to Motorola, Pfizer, Samsung, Shell, and Siemens.

MIT undergraduate and graduate students start applying in the middle of the fall and can continue into the spring if positions are available, all while meeting certain requirements. They need to carry a minimum 4.0 out of 5.0 GPA. They’ll already have had work experience from previous internships. Because it’s international, students in most programs need to have the equivalent of two to four semesters in the local language, but since the program is known, students will start taking the necessary classes before they apply, says April Julich Perez, MISTI’s associate director. Adding to that, MISTI prepares the students on their destination’s current events, politics, and culture, and helps them handle various paperwork needs and the logistics of moving. The intent is for the student to relocate smoothly and be able to be productive from the first day on the job, Coelho-Keyssar says.

For companies, the advantage of working with MISTI is that they get access to MIT students and their networks — the people who will start future companies and be the next generation of faculty, says Chappell Lawson, associate professor of political science and MISTI faculty director. But while the program is a boost for a student’s prospects, MISTI is a partnership, not just a résumé builder. “The hosts have to believe in it, want to continue in it, and continue to cover the costs of an internship,” he says. “We expect the students will contribute, and we expect them to demonstrate their MIT work ethic, adding real value to their hosts.”

Creating a match with Covidien

MISTI is not a static program. Students can select from existing internships, but if one doesn’t exist, “We will just go out and try to find something that will fit that student’s interest,” Coelho-Keyssar says. One example was the teaming of healthcare company Covidien and Ricardo De Armas, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student who applied in late 2013 for a placement in the summer of 2014.

De Armas had an interest in medical devices. The Venezuelan native wanted to gain work experience in the field, and, while he was fluent in Spanish, he wanted to improve his Portuguese. An internship with those qualities didn’t exist, but MISTI staff connected with the MIT-Brazil program reached out to Covidien and created an opportunity, Coelho-Keyssar says. The Dublin-based global healthcare company was looking to expand its research and development presence in Brazil, says Cliff Emmons, vice president of research and development, tailored products, and emerging markets at Covidien.

The decision to partner with MIT wasn’t difficult. Emmons says the Institute is central to the medical device ecosystem; has established the “standard of an engineer”; and maintains an academic approach that isn’t purely academic. “It has an emphasis on creating businesses versus creating research papers. It’s critical to have that startup mentality,” he says.

But Covidien wasn’t just merely looking for competence or entrepreneurship. Any candidate also had to be able to quickly adapt to the local environment, both socially and in the workplace. The preparation that students receive was another part of what attracted Covidien to MISTI, Emmons says.

The company was setting up one of its Covidien Centers of Innovation, with a research and development lab in São Paulo, and De Armas was hired to assist the director as a project manager, helping to procure equipment, learning how it operates, and training others. The project came with challenges, Emmons says. The deadline was tight — the research and development lab had to be ready to open and enable health-care professionals to directly collaborate with research and development staff by the end of De Armas’ internship. Equipment from around the world had to be shipped, coordinated, and secured. And all of this was happening as Brazil hosted the World Cup.

Emmons says that entering into the program, the company was looking to invest in the development of global leaders. On that front, the partnership was successful. “There was a beautiful synergy between the goal of MISTI-Brazil and Covidien,” he says.

Covidien was also pleased with De Armas. The company knew from the outset that an MIT student would be technically smart, but the distinguishing factor that made De Armas exceed expectations was his overall fluency and his ability to immerse himself into the workplace. “I always knew that our Brazil commercial team viewed themselves as a family,” Emmons says, “and it’s fantastic to see this family grow.”

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