UND Today

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Intern of integration

UND student assists Grand Forks Mayor in broadening conversation about immigrant population

Pete Haga, Laurie Freid, Michael Brown
UND Social Work graduate student Laurie Freid (center) is using her research knowledge to assist Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown (right) and Community Relations Officer Pete Haga (left) in gathering data to support the City’s Immigrant Integration Initiative. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

UND Social Work graduate student Laurie Freid isn’t one to follow a standard track.

While others in her class spent this summer gaining the required 500 hours of experience in direct practice and case management, Freid sought something more all-encompassing.

“I’ve learned on a personal level, through my undergraduate and graduate career, that I would like to do more macro social work,” she said.  “I had a couple of policy classes in my undergrad and graduate levels, and they really sparked my curiosity.”

Grand Forks Community Relations Officer Pete Haga knew he could engage that policy knowledge and curiosity at City Hall. In Freid, he saw a perfect fit for an internship that would help support the City’s growing Immigrant Integration Initiative – a multi-year project that finds ways to assimilate New Americans into Grand Forks and open up communication between new populations and the community.

“We first noticed Laurie’s leadership when she was a UND Student Senator, so leadership must be in the blood,” Haga said. “Leaders in Action – we have a posterchild right here,” he added with a nod to Freid.

Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown has seen many of these Leaders in Action come through City Hall as interns and leave ready to conquer community challenges.

“What we find with UND students is they bring an energy, a new perspective and a work ethic that applies to the situation,” Mayor Brown said. “We get tremendous returns, results and success, and they get tremendous experience, which broadens their value in the workforce.”

Crucial data

In her summer role with the City, Laurie works closely with Haga and the Mayor to support the initiative. Her responsibilities include making and strengthening connections with social services partners and stakeholders within the community and across the state.

But the team is most leveraging Freid’s research capabilities as a trained social worker, as she works to develop surveys and collect data examining the effects and benefits of immigrant integration in Grand Forks.

“She’s helped us identity research methods that work better when we’re looking at things, from a social services perspective and the perspective of measuring people and not just data sets,” Haga said. “She’s been able to bring an expertise gained through her studies to give us a different lens.”

This data may prove crucial in North Dakota’s next legislative session. This spring, state lawmakers discussed a bill that would have given the government oversight to halt refugee resettlement. Legislators ultimately decided that the issue needed to be further studied over the interim.

“Grand Forks has had a history of trying to collect this data, but that was a pivotal moment in actually doing so, and at least being a lead city in setting [data collection] up,” Freid explained.

Freid has spoken with other communities with immigrant populations to learn how they have effectively gathered data on immigrant impacts on resources, workforce, taxes, etc. But it’s no easy job. She says social services providers are often very protective of that information, and Haga adds that sometimes it’s just not there.

“One of the things we’ve learned over the last couple of months is that we don’t have a lot of data yet,” Haga said. “But we’ve become smarter about how we do collect data, and why we collect data. The goal is to continue to work toward how best to integrate populations within the community, making sure we mitigate risks with the hurdles on both ends.”

Community-campus connection

The Mayor’s Office has been talking with UND President Mark Kennedy about how the City’s integration efforts align with the One UND Strategic Plan. One of the plan’s seven goals is fostering a welcoming, safe and inclusive campus climate, and Mayor Brown sees his and President Kennedy’s strategies as “hand in glove.”

“We both have the same goals and we both want our people to succeed. We want them to be safe, productive and successful, and I think our plans are beautifully meshed,” Mayor Brown said. “It isn’t ‘this is the University and this is the community’ – it’s one.”

“We’re really excited about President Kennedy’s vision and leadership about the issues of inclusion and equity,” Haga added. “A sense of inclusion, a sense of welcoming and a sense of equity and opportunity on campus translates to off campus as well, and vice versa.”

More than an intern

Freid will graduate this week with her master’s degree in social work, and what she’s gained in the Mayor’s Office has been a valuable complement to her degree plan.

“I’ve learned how to talk to businesses – I never thought I could do that,” she explained. “I’ve been in meetings with business and city government and social workers. It’s been fascinating to learn how these relationships and dynamics work.”

And although she likes to refer to herself as a “supportive intern” of the Immigrant Integration Initiative, Haga and Brown say that’s an understatement.

“She’s a very highly educated, hard-working graduate student with a great experience who happens to be working with us though an internship – not simply an intern,” Haga said.

“We’ve had wonderful results with our UND interns, and Laurie is no exception,” Mayor Brown said, as Freid timidly grinned across the table. “It’s been a joy, and we are much, much better for it.”