For Natalie Gross ’24, the Kalamazoo Promise paved the way not only to Kalamazoo College, but also to a valuable internship experience.
During summer 2022, Gross worked as an information technology intern at CSM Group through the Higher Promise program.
The Kalamazoo Promise is a scholarship program that provides up to 100 percent of tuition and mandatory fees for post-secondary education for any student who graduates from Kalamazoo Public Schools. In the Higher Promise program, the Kalamazoo Promise facilitates job matching between regional companies and Promise scholars seeking internships.
Gross applied to the program in fall 2021, received resumé building help from the Kalamazoo College Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD), and interviewed with a Promise representative before being sent five options of regional business partners. While Gross ranked her interest in the options, companies also ranked their interest in the internship candidates so mutually agreeable matches could be made.
In her IT internship at CSM Group, Gross performed inventory and maintenance of software and updates on company devices. She also helped with research into intranet options for communication within the company.
“It was different every day,” Gross said. “IT is really a job where when something comes up, you deal with it. I would go in with a list of things to do, and I would work through those, and then there were also things that would come up more immediately that I would deal with.”
Gross liked the variety of tasks as well as meeting many people throughout the company as they came to the department for help.
“I appreciated how everyone treated the IT department,” she said. “It didn’t feel like we were there to just help you and then you’d leave. Everyone came in and they were interested in who I was and how I got there. It was an easygoing conversation and personal relationships with every employee.”
Focusing on the IT side of computer science complemented Gross’ classroom experiences at K, which have focused more on programming and development.
“This internship has been a great toe in the water for what life could be like post-grad,” Gross said. “It has given me a little bit of direction on where to go and to look to. I am still open to every side of computer science, but it’s helped me narrow down a bit and be a little more focused.”
Her experiences at CSM Group along with the structure of the Higher Promise program collaborated to also provide Gross with practice and training for being part of a workplace. Higher Promise planned professional development classes every other week for the interns, which included resumé building with the CCPD, a diversity-and-inclusion seminar, and CliftonStrengths assessment with coaching on understanding your personality in the workplace.
“There were a lot of fun things that we did,” Gross said. “I learned about how to be professional in a more personal way. I always had this idea that professionalism was something really stiff, and you didn’t have a lot of personality in it. I learned that you can be interesting and professional at the same time; it doesn’t have to be a trade-off.”
Gross also learned about professional communication and speaking up for herself. Through the Higher Promise program, she was assigned a mentor at her internship, and she was also encouraged to reach out to anyone in the company and network.
As a female student in a male-dominated field, Gross chose Alyce Brady, the Rosemary K. Brown Professor of Computer Science and computer science department co-chair, as her advisor at K. She appreciated that in CSM Group’s small IT department, there was a female employee.
“It was nice to have that representation,” Gross said. “I was told there that they wanted to hear my experiences as a woman and they wanted to know what it was like for me in the IT department. They wanted our voices to be heard and they were interested in my opinions.”
A double major in computer science and French, Gross plays on the softball team, works in the Office of Admission as a tour guide, and spent August to December studying abroad in Rennes, France.
She thinks all K students should study abroad, visit the CCPD, take advantage of the opportunities that are advertised in College emails, and immerse themselves in the K community.
“K has this environment where you’re able to connect with people outside of your major and your interests, which I think is not always the case in a lot of smaller schools,” Gross said. “A lot of my friends I’ve met just randomly. I have friends from the softball team and computer science and French classes, and yet I’ve also been able to open up and find friends outside of my immediate interests. I think K really gives you an option to have a more expansive social circle and to meet people outside of your interests.”