Interns in turn

UND enters third summer of partnership with the City of Grand Forks to provide real world work experiences for students

Cody Somerstrom

Cody Soderstrom, a recent UND computer science graduate, starts off his new gig as computer programmer for the City of Grand Forks with a clean slate. Photo Tyler Ingham.

Cody Soderstrom’s office space at Grand Forks City Hall is immaculate. There’s nothing written on his whiteboard. There are no list-laden sticky notes hanging from his computer monitor.

And dust—what dust?

But don’t characterize him as tidy just yet. This was only day one at the desk of his new full-time gig as a computer programmer for the City.

“It takes a lot of weight off my shoulders,” said Soderstrom, a new spring graduate of UND’s computer science program from Perham, Minn. “With finishing up school, figuring out graduation and all of the different things that I had to get in order, to not have this one huge thing to get in order is very nice. And to be able to stay in Grand Forks—it was a perfect opportunity.”

Soderstrom slid into this perfect opportunity after an 8-month internship with City Hall’s Information Technology (IT) department—just one of many internships available through a collaboration between UND and the City of Grand Forks.

“It’s just been this great partnership,” said UND Director of Career Services Ilene Odegard. “Of the 25 or so interns who have gone through this program, three have already been converted into full-time employees for the City.”

The partnership, now entering its third summer, connects undergraduate and graduate majors (from engineering, criminal justice, business and more) to temporary positions with the City that give them real world experience in their chosen career paths—supporting the first goal of the “One UND” Strategic Plan. Past intern projects have included conducting radon studies for public health, assisting with the Mayor’s budget, and working on Grand Forks economic development plans.

“It’s always project based,” said Haley Rosaasen, City of Grand Forks human resources generalist and UND alumna. “We never bring an intern on just to bring them on, because that’s not beneficial for them. We always want to make it a really good learning experience.”

This month, City Hall will welcome the fresh faces of eight brand new UND interns. The summer cohort will bring their classroom knowledge to vital projects within the police department, emergency management, engineering, the finance department, transit, and the Mayor’s Office.

“We need them, probably more than they need us,” Rosaasen said. “And we treat them like that.”

Cody Soderstrom and Mike Laschkewitsch

Soderstrom has quickly developed a strong working relationship with Assistant Director of IT Mike Laschkewitsch (right), who has worked with the City of Grand Forks for more than 20 years. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

Motivated mentorship

Once Soderstrom was chosen as an intern through a selective application and interview process, he was given a task—helping to transition all of City Hall’s older computer systems to newer systems. Many different databases and software had to be rewritten, and Soderstrom delivered.

“They placed trust in me. They really gave me the job, and if I needed help, they were always there for me,” he explained. “When I had something completed and brought it to them, they would give me feedback—they’d let me know what they liked and what could be changed.”

That balance of project ownership and professional support is no accident. Every intern is connected with a mentor on his/her first day, something Rosaasen says is incredibly important.

“We think that’s why the internship program has been successful. From the first day, you know who to go to for questions, and a lot of our interns have stayed in contact with their mentors throughout their careers,” Rosaasen said.

Soderstrom quickly developed a strong working relationship with Assistant Director of IT Mike Laschkewitsch, who has worked with the City of Grand Forks for more than 20 years.

“These young people, they come with a new point of view, and that’s great for some of us old-timers,” Laschkewitsch chuckled. “We need a little kick in the right direction sometimes to try something new. Cody has ideas about how things should work, and it’s great.”

Retaining workforce

The internship program is a true alliance between community and college. UND and the City share the cost of the paying the interns equally with funding though the UND Office of the Provost. UND Career Services helps spread the word about City internship openings through social media (utilizing its hashtag #HireHawks) and direct outreach to departments.

Once they get the candidates interested, the Career Services team is there for some professional prep.

“They can come to us for help with their resume, to practice interviewing, cover letters, all of that,” said UND Internship Coordinator Nancy Nelson. “We tell them that working is so important and your resume is important and building that resume is important. But seeing it come full circle—that’s what’s so exciting.”

“Without UND, we couldn’t have the internship program—not only for the financial aspect, but also the support,” Rosaasen said. “We have a lot of aging workforce, so it’s nice to be able to, if we have a rockstar intern, hire them on afterwards.”

On top of that, the success of the program has other industries taking note, creating even more possibilities for students. “It helps other companies within Grand Forks see that an internship maybe isn’t so hard to develop and integrate into their business. They think, ‘Maybe I can do something, too,’” Nelson said.

Rosaasen said the internship program also helps UND retain students by giving them a local learning opportunity and showing them viable career options in the community of their alma mater.

“That’s the whole goal,” she continued, “to keep these talented, young individuals here in Grand Forks.”

And City Hall’s newest permanent employee is happy to keep his talents in town—where he can clutter up his clean desk in the years ahead.

“The more time I spend here, the more I appreciate the time I will get to spend here,” Soderstrom said.