GRAND RAPIDS — The School of Engineering at Grand Valley State University is introducing a new, unique graduate assistantship program that allows students receiving a master’s degree in engineering to perform work outside of the university with West Michigan companies.

“Graduate students are usually offered assistantships as teaching or research assistants, and most schools fund the students through research and grants from government entities,” said Paul Plotkowski, dean of the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing. “With our new program, engineering graduate students will be sponsored by a local West Michigan company where they will do real engineering work.”

Plotkowski explained that the graduate assistant (GA) will perform supervised engineering work and applied research in the field for up to 20 hours per week during the fall and winter semesters while taking a full course load, then transition to 40 hours of field work each week in the summer.

Compared to an internship, where a company employs a student for a specific block of time, graduate students will be part of a company for a full year or more. “These graduate students already have a valued undergraduate degree under their belt, so they will be overseeing real engineering work,” said Shabbir Choudhuri, associate professor of engineering and graduate program director.

Grand Rapids Chair is the first company to join the program and will sponsor a GA in 2012. Geoff Miller, vice president of Operations for Grand Rapids Chair and Grand Valley MSE graduate, said this new arrangement will provide an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“Few students have the opportunity to not only get a master’s degree, but to work on an actual project for a small manufacturing company like ours,” Miller said. “Our graduate student will have the opportunity to not only learn and experience engineering, but many different aspects of our company like manufacturing, materials, finance, sales and marketing.”

The number of internships for engineering students increased by 42 percent in 2010, and computing and information systems co-ops increased by 31 percent, compared to 2009. “Employers are seeing the value of industry-sponsored experience, so our reaction is to provide it for our graduate students as well,” Plotkowski said.

Companies interested in joining the program can contact Choudhuri at or (616) 331-6845.


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