Riipen, ‘Match.com for academia,’ helps faculty find industry projects for students

The new platform, now at UND, lets educators incorporate employer projects directly into courses

Part of the value of a health care or engineering degree is the private-sector experience those graduates gain, along with their diplomas. Student nurses spend hours working on clinical rotations; students engineers often tackle a capstone project as seniors, working with an industry sponsor on a real-world challenge.

Now, there’s a platform at UND that can let faculty in almost any field help students bridge school and work.

The platform is called Riipen – and it’s pronounced “ripen,” for reasons that will become clear.

Riipen is a Vancouver, B.C.-based startup whose platform helps faculty create and embed work-integrated learning experiences directly into their courses. It first caught the attention of Jeff Holm, UND’s Vice Provost for Online Education and Strategic Planning, because Ripen so clearly would help UND solve a problem:

Jeff Holm

Jeff Holm

“As vice provost for Online Education, one of my biggest concerns has to do with our online classes being able to provide students with real-life, hands-on learning experiences,” Holm told UND Today.

“So, when I looked at Riipen, it was very exciting for me, because it’s a way for our classes and students to connect with 10,000 businesses, nonprofits and government agencies.” The net result – in which students learning political science might, for example, carry out a demographic analysis for a polling firm – helps the student, the university and the company alike, Holm said.

Mimi Marani, experiential learning and academic relationship manager at Riipen, agreed. “The explanation that lands with most educators is that Riipen is like Match.com, but for academia,” Marani said with a laugh.

In other words, a professor will submit a course outline to the Riipen platform, listing some of the objectives students will be expected to achieve. Industry partners that have a relevant project for students will respond.

The professor then will choose the best fit, and start working out the details with the company. Professors can choose from more than 3,000 projects on the Riipen platform, while companies and other organizations that have projects can scroll through 1,000-plus courses.

“Riipen is not an acronym for anything,” Marani said. “It’s pronounced ‘ripen,’ and that’s the idea: essentially ripening young minds.”

Riipen’s goal is to end university graduates’ underemployment, by making sure that all graduates – not just those from programs where clinical experiences and fieldwork are the norm – leave college with marketable workplace skills, she said.

UND now has a three-year agreement with Riipen, one that gradually will expand access to the company’s platform. UND faculty who teach on-campus, online or hybrid courses are eligible to take part.

 

A time-saver for teachers

Robert Warren

Robert Warren, instructor in marketing at UND, was one of the first to sign up.

“I teach at a community college in Canada as well, and we’ve been using Riipen for maybe two years,” Warren said. “I’ll tell you, it makes my job a lot easier.”

As mentioned above, educators have long understood how important it is for students to get on-the-job experience. That’s why internships are so popular, and why mechanical engineering seniors at UND complete industry-sponsored projects, “engineering solutions to real-world problems,” as the department’s website puts it.

“But in the past, it’s always been who a local instructor knew,” Warren said. “Back then, I’d be calling around to my contacts right now, looking for projects for students in my spring-term courses. And let’s face it, it doesn’t take you long to burn through the projects in a local area.”

Thanks to Riipen, Warren now has access to projects with employers from across North America. “And they all know the project has to fit into the college term system,” he said. “Sometimes when businesses contact us, they want it done tomorrow. I have to say, ‘I’m sorry, but that’s not how we work. I can’t ask student to drop whatever they’re doing for this.”

Recently, Warren posted on Riipen a course outline and project objectives for a class he’ll be teaching on retail management. “I got a bite from a company that’s going online with their beauty and cosmetics products,” he said.

“They’re looking for somebody to figure out, ‘Who’s the market for this? What does the website have to look like? How will customers interact with the site?’ All of this, we cover in the retail class.”

Students who successfully complete such a project will get not only valuable experience, but also personalized feedback from the company, Warren said.

“Industry associations, Chambers of Commerce and others are saying, ‘We need students who can be contributing members right away.’ And that’s often a deciding factor when an employer is choosing between people, in that the employer says, ‘Who can I get up to speed faster? Because that person is less of a cost to me.’”

Faculty, staff and others who are interested in Riipen can visit the above web page, which is in the Academic Tools & Technologies section of UND’s Teaching Transformation & Development Academy website. A link is at the bottom of the story. UND image.

Internships and more

Besides the “matching” platform that lets faculty find suitable project-offering organizations and vice-versa, Riipen also offers other services, Holm said.

“There’s actually a ‘concierge’ component to this as well, because Riipen staff will make suggestions to faculty and help put these partnerships together,” he said.

“There’s also a new internship component, in which someone in Career Services could say, ‘We have some students who’d be interested in a certain internship,’ and interested companies would respond.”

Mimi Marani

Riipen’s co-founders include two Canadians who, in college, found themselves facing the “graduate conundrum”: you can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job. Then they took a class with a real-life project embedded into the curriculum.

“And they were so impressed by the chance to not only develop those hard and soft skills, but also to have a real-life industry partner,” Marani said.

“Then they wondered, ‘Well, why don’t we have more of this?’” The answer, they learned, is that most faculty are too busy to seek out industry partnerships all on their own.

“So they thought, ‘Let’s fix that,’” she said.

“Ultimately, it’s all about the students; but in order to help students, the co-founders realized, you have to help their professors.” And that’s what Riipen’s all about, she said.

More information about the UND and Riipen partnership and how to get started can be found here: TTaDA: Riipen – Project-based learning