InternGF gets presidential
Student Body President Gracie Lian works with county administration through EDC internship program
Having met with dozens of Grand Forks County’s senior executives while preparing a high-level presentation to the County Commission, Gracie Lian is helping steer the future of the region.
Not bad, for someone who recently finished up her sophomore year in college.
But taking on new responsibilities is the norm for Lian, who was elected this spring to be the student body president at UND. It’s also a goal of InternGF, the Grand Forks-area program that takes students out of the classroom and puts them into offices, studios and County Commission chambers around town.
“You come into it timid, trying to figure everything out,” Lian said. “But once you see what you can accomplish, it becomes easier to move forward and grow confident in your capabilities.”
Under Tom Ford, Grand Forks County’s director of administration, Lian is among the latest batch of interns recruited through the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. (EDC) and UND Center for Innovation program, now in its second year.
“I was hoping to find something within Grand Forks to get myself involved in public administration,” Lian said, adding that she’s looking into pursuing a master’s degree in the subject at UND. “I wanted an internship to see if it would be a good fit. This is a position where I can see the inner workings and day-to-day of government initiatives and learn what’s happening.”
It’s a natural step for Lian, a Grand Forks native who’d been involved with Summer Performing Arts and other community programs for years. These days, UND’s newest leader in action sees herself becoming more of a driver than a volunteer.
“Getting to meet people and watch them enjoy themselves has been great, and now I have the opportunity to expand on that,” said Lian, who’s a political science and English major. “It’s helping me narrow my pathways to what I want to do as a career.”
Public sector interest
Ford says developing the internship position was a three-pronged approach, starting with a need.
“The county infrastructure is aging,” he said, listing the county office building, courthouse, juvenile detention center and other government facilities. “In government, our resources are limited. The Board of Commissioners wanted to start assessing long and short-term capital improvement needs.”
In other words, the need was to evaluate infrastructure critical for the county to deliver its services – a time and labor-intensive endeavor. That also took care of Prong No. 2: having specific tasks for an intern to work on. In fulfilling her assignment of collecting data and feedback, Lian has already met with more than 25 department heads and county commissioners.
The final aspect was knowing there would be a funding source for such a position, and Ford’s connection to the EDC as an ex officio board member made him aware of InternGF.
“I approached [Workforce and Strategic Initiatives Coordinator] Becca Cruger to ask if the position would be eligible for funding, to which she said ‘absolutely,’” Ford recalled. InternGF, in partnership with UND, provides employers with enough funding to support at least half of the costs of hiring a student-intern at $10 an hour.
Coincidentally, faculty at the College of Business & Public Administration had already connected with Ford to encourage more internships for undergraduates interested in the public sector.
“I’m a big believer in interns and these types of programs, because it’s frustrating for us to grow our future generations in Grand Forks, either K-12 or at UND, then watch them go somewhere else once they graduate,” Ford said. “We as professionals should be reaching out, grooming these graduates and exposing them to our workforce opportunities.”
On the other hand, Ford says he’s learned as much from Lian as she may have from him. She’s the kind of person who offers a different way of thinking about or viewing a situation, he says. As she accompanies Ford to a variety of budget and planning meetings, including the capital improvements planning project she’s attached to, Lian proves to be a great sounding board.
“It’s been helpful for me, in my position,” Ford told UND Today. “I’m coming to work every day and looking at how we run county government in a different way. She’s passionate about the community, but she’s also passionate about making a difference. In that way, I knew she would be a great fit.”
Lian found the internship experience useful for her role as student body president. She represented UND in a meeting regarding the 2020 U.S. Census, as well as efforts concerning the Welcoming Community Roadmap led by coordinator Robin David and Grand Forks Community Relations Officer Pete Haga. She’s also involved in on-campus meetings this summer through her presidential capacity.
“It’s been great to see the areas where UND, the city of Grand Forks and the county can overlap to give better services to students, which in turn may benefit the area by keeping students in Grand Forks and North Dakota,” Lian said. “As a citizen and UND student working with the county, I see there are a lot of great things the city and county can offer students that we need to keep pushing.”
Steering Grand Forks
While Lian compiled her findings and created a report for commissioners on the capital improvements assessment, she also worked with Grand Forks Air Force Base to strengthen the community’s services to airmen and women, as well as their families.
Health care is a marquee issue for the Base Retention and Investment Committee, and Lian worked on documents that clearly outline the area’s medical specialties and facilities.
“We’ve found that a lot of concerns are actually being met, just not on the surface level,” Lian described. “We’re making that clearer and more helpful in the future as we strengthen the air base with the new mission and bring more people to Grand Forks. It’s a daunting thing, as I don’t know the ins and outs of health care, but I’m excited to research and learn more.”
Lian’s work will provide Air Force leadership with evidence that Grand Forks is a good place to send its service members and families, Ford said. With everything he assigns Lian, he wants to provide a feeling of ownership to the experience. She’s in a position to make lasting impacts to the area.
The impact is already felt around county offices, Ford said. Lian has set a high bar for future interns, a standard that will encourage other department heads to take part.
“This partnership and program is fantastic,” Ford said of the InternGF program. “It’s good for the county and the community as a whole, and hopefully we’re retaining our UND graduates.”