KINETIK is a big believer in a robust intern program that gives young designers a chance to do real design work in a collaborative studio environment. Interns become part of the design team—from conceptual stages on projects to final implementation—working directly with senior designers and clients. Now in its 25th year, KINETIK’s intern program has employed more than 65 paid interns since it started in 1992.

“Education provides an excellent opportunity to develop a strong foundation and hone conceptual skills,” said Sam Shelton, KINETIK creative director. “However, an internship helps young designers understand how those skills are applied when working with clients.”

Most KINETIK interns have completed their junior year at school. “The summer break before senior year is a perfect time to bring them on board,” Sam said. “By then, students generally have the skill set necessary to become a collaborative member of the creative team and the internship provides them valuable experience to include on their resumes.”

Currently, KINETIK has two interns on staff. Recent grad Mark Roble is just completing his 18-month tenure after finishing his studies at the George Washington University’s Corcoran School of the Arts & Design. Mark has set his sights on the Baltimore design community and is currently sharing his portfolio there for a full-time position. KINETIK’s newest hire is senior Curtis Melvin, also a student at the Corcoran School.

Scott Rier, senior designer at KINETIK, interned at KINETIK in 1994 and joined the team full-time in 1995 after graduating. “I interviewed at more than 10 different studios in the D.C. area, but knew that KINETIK was a perfect fit for me,” Scott said. Twenty-three years later, Scott now serves as a mentor for all KINETIK interns.

“I don’t think of my time at KINETIK as a typical internship,” said Ken Zinser, former KINETIK intern and designer. “From day one they relied on me to be a high-level contributor in the studio throughout the creative process. I learned how to collaborate, with clients and designers, and how to be part of a team.”

That type of collaboration and direct client interaction is rare in an academic setting, generally only found on the job. Good internships provide the opportunity to develop career-building skills beyond design. “I really learned how to engage with clients—not simply how to address them properly in an email…but how to ask tough questions and present bold concepts, and to genuinely care about their goals and ideas,” Ken said. “That mindset has made me a more effective collaborator, and a better designer.”

Designer Joanna Ng believes internships offer experience for both the intern and the staff. Keeping jobs in the queue for interns, teaching KINETIK protocol about everything from sketching to office procedures, and providing design direction are all part of each member of the full-time design team’s role in shaping the intern program. “While the intern gains valuable on-the-job experience,” Joanna said, “I’ve also honed my management skills working with so many interns over the years.”

While most interns work with the design team in the studio, there was a special group that was hired in the early 2000s to assist at KITCHEN [K], a design gallery created by KINETIK. KITCHEN [K] interns helped with all aspects of the gallery, including staffing the openings, which allowed them to meet other designers and artists in an informal, friendly environment.

“The gallery was truly a labor of love,” former KITCHEN [K] gallery manager and KINETIK office manager Ali Kooistra Breen said. “KINETIK interns’ contributions were instrumental—from the initial gallery construction, to the development of the gallery’s visual identity, to assisting in the coordination and installation of exhibitions. They also worked the openings and special events and served as docents during gallery hours.”

“The commitment to forwarding an appreciation and respect for design was mutual endeavor for everyone involved in KITCHEN [K],” Ali said. “Each of the interns were artists themselves, many attending the Corcoran College of Art, which allowed them to bring their own creativity and developing styles into the gallery, both conceptually and visually.”

Jenny Skillman, managing director, started at KINETIK in 2001 when there were both gallery and design interns in the studio. “In addition to the caliber of young designers and the spirit of support from everyone, what really impressed me from the start was KINETIK’s unwavering philosophy that interns should be paid in addition to gaining experience,” said Jenny, who advocated for architecture interns to be paid earlier in her career. “I never understood how creative companies, or really any company, couldn’t see both the ethical and business value in paying interns. KINETIK’s approach was right to me. Plus, we ended up hiring several excellent interns as full-time designers after they earned their degrees.”

After almost 30 years in business, another ongoing benefit of KINETIK’s intern program is eternal youth. “It is rewarding to continually help young designers start their professional careers,” KINETIK creative director Jeff Fabian said. “Our student interns bring fresh insights and new approaches. In a collaborative studio like ours, that helps us push the ideas we present to clients and inspires all of us.”

The company benefits, the interns benefit, and ultimately creative solutions flourish—all reasons KINETIK has found that, after 25 years, a strong intern program remains a great return on investment.