Students + Startups interns gather at Legacy Park, across the street from the Rand Building, where many of them worked over the summer. Credit: Students + Startups

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When Matthew Reedy began his search for summer interns, he knew he needed to look beyond students with a specific GPA and a polished cover letter to fill the available positions.

In an effort to find skilled candidates while also saving time and resources, Addiction Resource Systems, Inc. applied to participate in the Students + Startups (S+S) internship program, giving it access to a large pool of local talent whose skills, experience and level of commitment were vetted in advance.

S+S is a nonprofit internship program that serves as the bridge between top talent and career advancing opportunities in San Antonio by connecting hardworking college students and recent graduates with small businesses and startups with the mission of retaining top-tier talent. Since its inception in 2016, the program has grown from 15 interns to having more than 500 applications from across the globe in 2022. This summer, 52 interns from all majors and disciplines were placed at 38 local companies. 

The program is a supporting organization of the San Antonio Area Foundation, funded by the philanthropic 80/20 Foundation.

Reedy, chief technology officer at Addiction Resource Systems, Inc., a technology company working to redefine the way addicts find solutions to overcome their addictions, was looking for two interns: one to work in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, and one with a computer science background with an emphasis on software development. Both interns would work to design new features for the organization’s app, called WingMan, which aims to redirect an addict’s attention to something recovery-oriented or simply to distract.

After viewing more than 100 vetted candidates through the S+S program portal, “It just clicked,” Reedy said. “We were looking internally to add a game component to our [existing] app,” which offers guided meditations, journaling exercises, and recovery stories to the more than 11,000 users, and “two [candidates] we came across fit the bill.”

Reedy added two members to his team for a 10-week summer contract: Asjal Ahmed, a sophomore computer science major attending Trinity University, and Carolina Ramirez-Tamayo, a graduate student in engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Together they built a game for WingMan that focuses on diverting an addict’s attention away from cravings and intrusive thoughts by giving them a virtual pet to take care of.

Ahmed said Reedy gave him free rein to develop something that would “keep people engaged in the app,” so he developed a game design where the participant would be taking care of a pet and its needs from feeding, bathing and petting, “in an effort to get them thinking about anything but [behaviors that lead to] relapse.”

Reedy said all he did was describe the idea he had for a game to keep people occupied and gave little direction; he mostly helped “fine-tune” what Ahmed brought back to the table, which resulted in the pet caretaking app.

Ramirez-Tamayo then used her AI and machine learning background to add an emotion detection component to the game, meant to dissect user language to determine their mood, whether happy, sad or otherwise, Reedy said. Ahmed then suggested a chat component, so users could connect with each other about their pets and eventually their emotions.

“I can’t remember what started as [their] idea or mine, I just know they were able to “make something of an idea our team had only just begun talking about.”

The skill set Ahmed and Ramirez-Tamayo brought to Addiction Resource Systems, Inc. is exactly what the S+S program is all about, 80/20 Foundation Executive Director Alexandra Frey said.

“We vet candidates from across the nation looking for those who show dedication, possess the skills needed and want to show up with a firm work ethic on day one,” she said. “While we are looking to help students and recent graduates build their résumés, we are also looking to build a highly skilled workforce in San Antonio. We want our company partners to hire their intern(s) after their contract is over so we can keep them local.”

Summer 2022 was the first time Addiction Resource Services, Inc. participated in the S+S program. Over 125 companies from all industries have participated since 2016, with many returning year after year — an ongoing testament to the success of the program and processes, Frey said. Partner companies include VelocityTX, CodeUp, Dura Software and Big Sun Solar. The program accepts intern applications from all majors and disciplines and companies from all industries.

Dura Software, a San Antonio-based hyper-niche software company that specializes in products for mission-critical use, has partnered with S+S since 2019 and has since hired more than 15 interns through Students + Startups. Dura extended full-time job offers to several thereafter.

“S+S makes a huge difference for companies like ours,” said Rebecca Huff, people team director at Dura.

S+S is now accepting applications for potential company partners and interns and hopes to have the largest pool of intern and company applicants in the program’s history for summer 2023.

Interns are paid a $6,000 stipend for a full-time, 10-week contract; S+S pays half of that stipend per intern, for up to six interns per company. The program also pays for housing in downtown San Antonio for those who are eligible.

While the program accepts applications from across the nation for intern candidates, Frey said the program is shifting its focus for 2023 toward students and recent graduates who are San Antonio- and Texas-based, as S+S works to further the mission of retention and enhancing the local workforce.

“We want companies to use this program to find their next great hire,” Frey said. “Our candidates have a lot to offer and we want to keep them in San Antonio.”

Students + Startups is a nonprofit internship program that serves as the bridge between top talent and career-advancing opportunities in San Antonio, Texas.