University of Wisconsin–Madison

Millennium Geospatial

Kevin Maes, Vice President of Engineering at Millennium Geospatial, has been working with student staff across a variety of academic disciplines for a number of years. By bringing students into the fold, he has been able to build a pipeline of potential full-time employees and has benefitted from the knowledge the students are learning in class. In the Q&A below, Kevin describes more about his experiences with interns and work-study students. 
How did you decide you wanted to work with student staff?

I’ve been working in the telecom engineering space for over 25 years, and I’ve always felt that a lot of the work that needs to be done to complete a project successfully can be done by anyone who has an interest in problem-solving and is comfortable with technology – regardless of level of education or experience.

I’ve also been keenly aware for a long time that there is a ton of work available in the space as we race to keep up with the demand for more and faster internet. There are not a lot of people “getting into the business” these days. I also think that technology has advanced significantly in the geospatial realm since I graduated many years ago.

Working with student staff has been a win/win because our interns have access to tools and training that will be highly desirable in the marketplace, and we have access to really sharp individuals who are eager to learn. Plus, they can relate to the problems we are solving with providing broadband to areas of the country that need it.

What roles have students taken on in your office?

Students who work with us tend to have the title of Geospatial Engineering Intern. They generally work within a team on high-level designs, low-level designs, or R&D projects. We work predominantly in the telecommunications space, so these designs and projects tend to support initiatives to get faster and better Internet to people across the country and in Canada as well. We have been fortunate enough to hire some of our interns that have graduated from school.

What has been your experience with the Work-Study Program, and working with students in general?

The UW staff who support the program are very responsive and helpful, and all of the students who have come to us from the UW have been incredibly bright, well prepared, and hard working. Some have experience with the tools we use (predominantly ArcGIS Pro by Esri) because UW has a Data Science program, but many do not have that experience yet get up to speed very quickly.

On the administrative side of managing the Program, it takes a little work to learn all of the routines. There is a lengthy handbook that answers just about any question an employer has, but it’s a matter of making the time to read it!

Could you give an example of a moment that stands out in your mind in working with a Work-Study student?

Honestly all of the students that we have worked with from the UW have been really great to work with. Obviously we know administratively which interns are in the work-study program and who is not, but the cool stories we have – and there are many – come from all of the various interns that are on the team. 

Working with students has brought perspective and skill sets that we would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. It allows us to hire quickly and get people started working quickly, and it has provided a path for us to hire full-time employees that are already familiar with our company and culture and in turn eager to work for us as an employee. In so many ways, this is a win/win program, and we’re very grateful to be a part of it.

~Kevin Maes, Vice President of Engineering at Millennium Geospatial

How have you helped student staff be successful (onboarding/training, structure, getting acquainted with company culture, connecting with staff, selecting appropriate tasks, etc.)?

There is an onboarding session right when they start so they know the nuts and bolts, such as access to their email account and how to enter their time. There is a weekly intern meeting that everyone attends – in person or remote – and during that hour, they share what they have been working on and they discuss other topics that are of interest to them. This session has a “work” element to it for sure, but it’s also a time that they can chat and get to know each other better. 

We also help provide some insight into the modern working environment – not just desks and chairs, but also communication (internal and with clients), reporting structure, team concepts, etc. For a lot of the interns, this is their first foray into a traditional job other than experiences like retail or fast food.

Also, in 2021, we had our 1st annual offsite teambuilding event. All staff were invited, and several interns chose to attend. We had two half days of meetings where we covered everything from how we got here (as a business) to where the business is going in the next 18 months and beyond. There was a Shark Tank-like session where team members could present a problem that could be solved using GIS. Every idea presented was out of the park! It was a very cool session to witness, and the post-event survey reflected that the team really enjoyed it as well. Once the formal meeting sessions were complete, team members had the option to go whitewater rafting or zip lining.

What tips would you provide to other businesses who are considering working with students?

Have a plan. The modern-day student worker dives in and learns fast. If you have them sit and observe for too long, they will be bored. Let them dive in and begin learning on the job as soon as possible. 

Also, have structure, but do your best to “let go” and let the team do their work. You will discover that they will bring a new perspective to a project and very often find efficiencies no one had thought of previously. 

Finally, make a point of reiterating the paths available to them to communicate their questions, concerns, and feedback. 

How has hiring students impacted your business overall?

Working with students has brought perspective and skill sets that we would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. It allows us to hire quickly and get people started working quickly, and it has provided a path for us to hire full-time employees that are already familiar with our company and culture and in turn eager to work for us as an employee. In so many ways, this is a win/win program, and we’re very grateful to be a part of it. There is also the diverse experience aspect. We have not just GIS interns; we have physics, astronomy, communications, geology, and data analytics majors – folks pursuing their PhD’s, and folks attending the local technical colleges. All get a chance to contribute and collaborate. It’s that collaboration that I feel is our secret sauce and has contributed to our rapid success.