Right at home in the ‘real world’

InternGF program puts UND students on the job, gets green light for year two

Steven Kueffer, Peyton Cole

Steven Kueffer (left) and Peyton Cole received internships made possible by the InternGF program. The Grand Forks EDC, with seed money from UND, engaged with startups and member businesses to partially fund new internships. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

In taking “InternGF” into 2019, Becca Cruger looks forward to an even closer relationship between UND’s Center for Innovation and the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.

One of Cruger’s first tasks as strategic initiatives coordinator for the EDC was creating and running InternGF – a joint initiative to bring more students into local, innovative internships. Its initial run was announced last January and a successful year ensued.

“We were hoping to place 10 interns and we wound up placing 11,” Cruger said.

With $35,000 in seed money from UND, InternGF was able to provide local employers with up to $3,500. This figure, it was reasoned, could support half of the costs of hiring an intern at a minimum of $10 per hour.

Applications for InternGF 2019 opened in October to help employers plan early for spring and summer internship opportunities.

“It’s first come, first serve,” Cruger said of the applications open to startups and EDC-member businesses. “Last year, we received more applications than we had the ability to fund.”


Two students who saw the benefits of such funding were Peyton Cole and Steven Kueffer, both of whom received unique experiences through InternGF. In the case of Kueffer, the experience is ongoing.

Steven Kueffer

Steven Kueffer

He saw a posting on the UND Mechanical Engineering Department’s poster board, an area that’s filled with job opportunities by the school year’s end.

“I was looking for job experience over everything,” said Kueffer, a native of the St. Paul, Minn. “I was coming out of my junior year and it was high time I got some experience before going into the workforce.”

Through Technology Applications Group (TAG) in Grand Forks, Kueffer found an internship that was more hands-on than he could’ve imagined.

The engineer-in-training spent the summer doing machine-shop work, learning computer-aided design programs and what it’s like to be in a professional environment as he worked on an automation system for testing parts created by TAG.

Kueffer says it has been an effective way to apply what he’s learned on a practical basis. Though InternGF-based funding ran out, TAG has kept him on after his summer stint.

“Sometimes you go to class and things are hard to understand,” Kueffer said. “But when it’s sitting right there in front of you, you actually understand the applications. It’s obvious when you make a mistake and you can see the concepts at play.”

Community connection

Cole agrees that internships are the perfect way to see classroom concepts in the real world.

“I don’t believe in baptism by fire, by any means,” Cole clarifies. “But you do learn a lot by being thrown into a situation.”

Peyton Cole

Peyton Cole

This year, Cole, a junior business management major, got involved with the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals through InternGF. One of her bigger projects was a SWOT analysis – a process evaluating strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It was something she learned in class, but it became relevant and meaningful when she applied it to her organization’s marketing presence.

“It’s completely different seeing something in a book than saying, ‘I actually have to do this for a real organization,’” she said. “As an intern, you take it seriously but you know that you’re still learning, going through it. And my bosses were there to help me grow as a professional and student.”

Cole also wrote newsletters, made graphics, created social media programming and assisted in planning Young Professionals events in the community. This helped her attain better understanding of how the organization operated as a whole.

Her InternGF experience turned her into an advocate for the program and helped her see how students can become more involved in Grand Forks.

“I’ve been here for three years and I’m originally from a community that’s not far away,” Cole said, who’s from Park River, N.D. “If I went back to Park River and came back here, I was always going back to ‘Grand Forks.’ InternGF changed that for me; I feel like Grand Forks is my home.”

It’s a change of perspective that’s crucial for retaining young people. Cole says UND is a gateway to making it happen. As UND brings in students, a partnership with the city can get them involved. From Cole’s perspective, plenty of students spend four years on campus without exploring the offerings of Grand Forks.

Her experience with InternGF helped her establish roots she didn’t have before. Her internship connected her to leaders and change-drivers that have been inspiring to her as a young professional.

“I have never been so confident in my business degree than I was after this summer,” Cole said. “It made me realize that I’m in the right degree and right spot in my life, where I need to be.”

Opportunity engine

Cruger is happy to see success stories coming out of InternGF’s first go, stressing that internships are crucial companions for four-year degrees in today’s job market.

Becca Cruger

Becca Cruger

The biggest change for the next round of InternGF is the way students interact with the Center for Innovation during their internships. Cruger says the program is establishing touch-points throughout the semester where interns meet with CFI staff.

“That component will help them think innovatively and progressively about how they can take their internship to another level,” she said.

Cruger also praised new CFI director Amy Whitney, who maintains a focus on student outcomes. Whitney wants to create opportunities for students to leave UND with a background of experiential learning. She says the investment on the part of the University helps students translate their learning into relevant, practical experiences not far from campus.

“InternGF is a win-win for each partner because we maximize the assets of each entity so each can succeed,” Whitney said. “It’s important for the Center for Innovation and UND to partner with the city and economic development leaders in Grand Forks because we share a mutual interest in developing creative, innovative professionals in a vibrant community.”