Opportunity knocks with ‘InternGF’

Joint University-EDC initiative provides experiential connections to UND students, ready talent pool for local businesses

Keith Lund

President and CEO of Grand Forks EDC Keith Lund takes the stage Thursday evening to announce a joint venture with UND to place students in experiential learning positions with early-stage companies or companies developing new services and technologies. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Over the din of local business leaders rubbing elbows last week, Keith Lund’s focus was on UND’s students.

That’s when Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, along with UND President Mark Kennedy and Provost Tom DiLorenzo, announced a new joint initiative aimed at the business innovators of tomorrow.

Aptly named “InternGF,” the initiative hopes to offset costs for newer businesses looking to bring on interns. It’s also an effort to keep UND students in the Grand Forks region for internships and career opportunities.

The announcement came Thursday, at the Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce’s “Business After Hours” event, hosted this month by UND’s Center for Innovation. Lund explained that the program is targeted at placing interns in entrepreneurial experiences with area startups, as well as local companies introducing a new product or service.

“We think that students who have a passion for entrepreneurship and startup companies …will find great value in it,” Lund said.

Barry Horowitz

Center for Innovation Interim Director Barry Horwitz (left) envisions his revamped center as a development hub of experiential learning for UND students. And as the InternGF program grows, he hopes the Center for Innovation’s role grows with it. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Keeping them local

Lund also pointed out the fact that entrepreneurial students have a difficult time finding internships in the Grand Forks area. With $35,000 in seed funding from the University, the goal is to entice more companies to entertain student-intern opportunities. The program will contribute up to $3,500 — roughly half an intern’s salary or payroll costs.

Initiative backers hope to place up to 15-20 interns a year.

“I’ve already started meeting with employers who might not have understood the true value of an intern,” said Becca Cruger, EDC strategic initiatives coordinator.

Cruger’s previous experience working within the Pancratz Career Development Center, within the UND College of Business and Public Administration, showed her the impact the new initiative could have on entrepreneurial students in the area. Many programs in the College and at UND require students to complete an internship or experiential-learning opportunity before graduation.

In the past, when students couldn’t find suitable opportunities in the Grand Forks area, Cruger was forced to steer them toward the Twin Cities or other metro areas. As someone who personally loves Grand Forks — this was hard for her to do.

“InternGF is a key piece in the workforce pipeline and will help to keep those talented innovators and top students right here, instead of having some other community benefit from their ideas and energy,” she said.

Talent-attraction magnet

Center for Innovation Interim Director Barry Horwitz envisions his revamped center as a development hub of experiential learning for UND students. And as the InternGF program grows, he hopes the Center for Innovation’s role grows with it.

“One of the things we’ve been trying to do is evolve the Center,” he said, likening it to a connective tissue in the community’s entrepreneurial system. “It would be great to connect students with more types of early-stage companies, and with that, (bring) more awareness of the Center.”

UND and EDC officials touted InternGF’s potential to connect the local business community to a pool of UND students who have the skills employers demand.

“This will not only provide wonderful learning experiences for UND students and innovative talent for area businesses, but will connect students more closely with Grand Forks in the process,” said President Kennedy.

Lund reminded the Business After Hours crowd of Kennedy’s enthusiastic message that UND is the chief opportunity engine for the state and the region. Lund then offered a metaphor of his own.

“The way I look at it, (UND) is also our region’s number one talent-attraction magnet.”

Mark Kennedy and Keith Lund

UND President Mark Kennedy and EDC President and CEO Keith Lund teamed up to announce the new InternGF initiative, which aims to keep UND students focused on economic developments happening right here in Grand Forks. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Improved pathway

The University also recognizes how closely InternGF aligns with UND’s new strategic plan and its goal to deliver more high-impact learning opportunities.

“This is yet another example of the strategic plan in action for the benefit of our students,” DiLorenzo said. “This improved pathway to the talents of our eager and innovative students all over the University is also an exciting step forward in the overall mission of the Center for Innovation as we respond to workforce demands of the community and regional marketplace.”

Lately, Cruger has noticed a visible shift in millennials experiencing a higher quality of life and exciting career opportunities in and around Grand Forks. The InternGF initiative would only enhance that trend.

“I happen to be one of those people who was drawn to the area because of its opportunities,” she said. “I am excited for the potential InternGF holds in connecting UND students to the world-class companies and careers that exist right here in the region.”