Classroom to career: InternGF shows results

Changes to internship placement program for 2020 will provide more opportunities for UND students, regional startups

Amy Whitney, speaking before an audience of EDC member organizations and students, helped launch the third year of the InternGF program by discussing the ways the program is shifting to develop more placements for students. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

UND students get high-level experience in businesses, government agencies and other organizations in Grand Forks. Those organizations get a long but comparatively low-cost look at a student who, after graduation, maybe could be convinced to stay.

And UND itself gets returning students who come back to campus with fresh enthusiasm about building great careers.

What’s not to like?

Tom DiLorenzo

Tom DiLorenzo

By all indications, not only has InternGF been a popular program at UND’s Center for Innovation (CFI) and the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. (EDC), but also it has added to the University’s efforts to boost retention and engage students in high-impact practices.

Provost Tom DiLorenzo, speaking before an audience of EDC member organizations and past and present student interns on Tuesday, said research supports the goal of InternGF: placing UND students in businesses, offices and startup companies around the area.

The Center for Innovation hosted the event, which launched InternGF 2020 and featured guest speakers and new ideas for growing Grand Forks’ internship opportunities for UND students.

“Research shows that more students are retained; research shows that students are more likely to get their first choice of jobs; and research shows that students with internship experience get paid better to begin their careers, as well as later in life,” DiLorenzo listed.

“We started this program with the EDC a couple of years ago,” he said. “It has been important and strong, and students have had tremendous experiences.”

Hands-on impact

Gracie Lian, UND student body president, said she had high hopes when she applied for an internship with the Grand Forks County Administration office, yet those expectations were completely surpassed by the end of the summer.

As previously reported by UND Today, Lian worked under Director of Administration Tom Ford on a months-long project: helping conduct a strategic capital improvements plan and study for Grand Forks County.

“We identified a lot of needs for the coming years,” said Lian regarding facilities such as the correctional center, juvenile detention center and county office itself.

After meeting with over 25 officials, stakeholders and administrators, Lian compiled a 40-page report that Ford now is using as he and county leaders develop a roadmap to tackle future infrastructure shortfalls.

“Gracie had a tall order, and she did exceptional work,” Ford told the audience following Lian’s account of her InternGF experience. “The commissioners tease me and say if I go down, they can replace me with her in a heartbeat.”

After her time working alongside Ford, Lian decided to advance her education in public administration by taking on the 4+1 Master of Public Administration program. This semester, she is taking courses that can double-count for her undergraduate and graduate degrees.

“My internship taught me so much, and the amount of hands-on experience prepared me for more education,” she said. “You never know what impacts these internships will have on you as a student.

“I wouldn’t trade this past summer for anything.”

Lian (center), in attendance with her former internship supervisor (right), thought the opportunity to speak at the event was a good means by which to give back to a program that changed her trajectory at UND. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Multiplying opportunities

It’s experiences such as Lian’s that Amy Whitney, director of the Center for Innovation, and other InternGF facilitators want to multiply.

The funding available to EDC member organizations — provided in part by UND — has allowed 24 new internships to develop in the past two years, meaning 24 students have had opportunities they otherwise may not have had around Grand Forks, Whitney said.

“What’s great is we share in the cost of helping pay for those internships and provide opportunities for employers in the region to offset costs of bringing on interns, which is important for EDC companies and startups,” Whitney said.

During her time at the podium on Tuesday, Whitney laid out the slight changes coming to the funding structure. To support additional means for startup companies, she said, InternGF will provide a 50 percent match in funding, or $3,500. For EDC members, the match will change to 33 percent. Interns filling InternGF-created positions are paid a minimum of $10 an hour.

“It’s exciting to have so much interest and to fill the positions so quickly, but we need to think about how we can maximize the resources we have in the program,” the CFI director said. “Startups are truly bootstrapping their operations, and we want to make sure we can maximize their opportunities with their limited resources as they’re getting off the ground.”

InternGF organizers are looking forward to supporting more internships than have been available in previous years, Whitney said. Previous open-application periods have created and filled internship positions within the first three months of availability. The InternGF 2020 launch event also marked the opening of applications for next year’s round of internship funding, which can be found at grandforks.org.

Airtonomy CEO Josh Riedy spoke to the talent and tenacity of UND student interns he’s been able to bring to his UAS tech startup at Tuesday’s celebration. Changes to the program’s funding mechanism will allow for more companies such as Riedy’s to hire more interns in 2020. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

‘Wealth of talent’ at UND

Airtonomy CEO Josh Riedy testified to how much UND’s talent pool has made a difference for his startup UAS company. UND Today, in September, wrote about the experience of engineering major Connor Propp as he worked over the summer to help develop Airtonomy’s proprietary software.

On Tuesday, Riedy said he had three current or former interns in the audience.

“These aren’t just students, and they’re not just interns,” Riedy said. “They’re future employees of ours. For that, I’m eternally thankful.”

The CEO said he was humbled to see the work of his team, interns included, at a recent Microsoft keynote.

“It’s not about having someone get you coffee,” Riedy said of internships, echoing previous speakers’ notion that InternGF provides high-impact opportunities. “These interns get to see us struggle as a startup, where we’re putting together products and facing challenges.”

The work of Airtonomy has mostly been under wraps, Riedy said, but he hopes everyone in the regional business community will eventually be proud of what UND students have been able to accomplish, and the “literal impact” InternGF has made for a North Dakota tech startup.

“We have a wealth of talent and can put it to good work,” he said.

Becca Cruger, referred to during the event as the “lifeblood” of the InternGF program due to her handling of day-to-day operations, serves as workforce and strategic initiatives coordinator for the EDC. She says the workforce pipeline for the region has never been stronger, thanks to increased partnerships with UND.

“Having UND continue its support of InternGF is incredibly valuable because we’ve seen there is a huge appetite for it,” she said. “I think not only does it give UND students that hands-on experience, but also it really connects our business community with the University and strengthens those ties.

“Making sure students are able to find internships in the area where those internships previously didn’t exist is something this program does like no other.”