InternGF maintains momentum despite pandemic
UND, in partnership with Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., invests more in internship opportunities for students
UND’s partnership with the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. is reaching new heights in 2021.
That means more UND students will be interning at more Grand Forks-area businesses than ever before, to the benefit of the students, the businesses, Grand Forks and UND alike.
A record number of EDC-member businesses and organizations applied for funding through the InternGF program before nine were ultimately selected to receive support for up to two internship positions, according to a press release from the EDC.
With funding support from UND’s Center for Innovation (CFI), InternGF has created 50 such internships in the Grand Forks region since 2018. The collaboration between UND and the EDC is designed to increase the number of local internships, which helps employers’ workforce recruitment and retention efforts by introducing UND students to career and entrepreneurial opportunities in Grand Forks, the release states.
So, what’s behind the program’s growing momentum in the midst of an economy-bending pandemic?
Amy Whitney, director of the Center for Innovation, said that while COVID-19 has played a role in the number of businesses seeking support, the past three years of success have spoken volumes to the value of UND’s talent pool – its exceptional students.
“We have seen repeated success with a good number of interns being hired on after their internship experiences,” Whitney said. “We’ve been able to show that there are great opportunities in this region for UND’s students, and InternGF has represented a great investment.
“And I think businesses have seen that evidence from peers and counterparts who have been able to participate. Now they want to participate, as well.”
Invested in high-impact opportunities
Beyond the evidence Whitney mentioned, InternGF provides a framework for hiring interns that’s approachable for the business community, said Tyler Sletten, a CFI consultant and student liaison for the program.
Since its first year, InternGF’s framework has become even more fine-tuned and better understood in Grand Forks.
“Hiring, in general, is already difficult, and then you add the components of an internship,” Sletten said. “Businesses might not have relationships with the University, but they want access to the talent that’s there.
“In addition to providing those inroads, sort of like a matchmaker, the CFI is helping offset the costs of bringing on students. It’s a big win for them.”
And by no means is the program only a big win for EDC-member companies, which include startups and major employers alike. InternGF is placing students in environments that trend toward in-demand career fields, high wages and experiences unique to the local region, said Becca Cruger, workforce and strategic initiatives coordinator for the EDC.
“This program is valuable because it gets UND students into real-life experiences, so when they graduate, they’re not graduating with only a degree,” Cruger said. “They’re graduating with that degree, as well as practical experience that will give them a competitive advantage in today’s job market.”
UND Today has chronicled such experiences in prior coverage of the program. Cruger was happy to report that InternGF has been able to fend off the worst symptoms of the pandemic, as they relate to employment and workforce management.
“Companies that have been awarded funding through the past year have had to figure out how to pivot – which seems to be the word of the year,” Cruger remarked. “Most businesses and organizations are now ‘COVID veterans,’ for better or worse, and everyone has been able to develop safe arrangements for their interns while still delivering on the program’s objectives for high-impact learning.”
Whitney acknowledged the role of UND Career Services in helping support InternGF participants to deliver high-quality internships while working within COVID-related restrictions.
“Career Services has been a fantastic resource for the program,” Whitney said. “They helped us and the employers think creatively, especially earlier in the pandemic, but we haven’t lost opportunities for the students.”
In fact, the trajectory for InternGF has been quite the opposite, with the Center for Innovation choosing this year to increase its overall contribution toward the program. The CFI and EDC have also decided to align funding opportunities more closely with the academic cycle, so applications will open this summer for companies to bring on fall semester interns.
“Given the success of the past three years, and the overwhelming demand that we could not meet, it only made sense because we were seeing a good return on the investment, with our partnerships in the community,” Whitney said. “We felt the additional funding this year could add to the number of opportunities available to students.”
From intern to launching a startup
Kaleb Dschaak has a full-circle perspective on the power of InternGF’s investment.
Just last year, as a senior at UND, Dschaak was an intern at Praxis Strategy Group in Grand Forks. Located downtown, Praxis put Dschaak in the mix of the economic development, marketing and policies shaping the community.
InternGF made his position possible, and the connections and experiences he developed at Praxis immediately boosted his professional trajectory.
Now an alum, Dschaak launched his own startup company. So, he’s once again interacting with the UND-EDC program, but through an entirely different lens.
“As a small business owner, I can now pay more competitive wages and meet my bottom line because of InternGF,” Dschaak said. “It’s a valuable tool in keeping students in Grand Forks. And I can say this with confidence because it worked on me!”
At FenWorks, Dschaak and his small team operate as a marketing company with a focus on competitive gaming, better known as esports. During his time as a student leader in the state, Dschaak – a former vice president of the student body at UND and student member on the State Board of Higher Education – learned about the factors preventing North Dakota schools from starting esports programs, he said.
“Our mission is to provide students the opportunity to engage with esports and learn about technology and career pathways in STEM,” he said.
What brought him back to InternGF were the demands on his company for its marketing services, working with small businesses to develop affordable websites and manage social media.
“We’ve been able to bring on Brendan Watson as a social media intern,” Dschaak said. “He’s a communication major with skills in content creation, video production and asset creation that are proving invaluable.”
Dschaak went on to say that Watson – by way of his internship – is a full-fledged member of the FenWorks team, one who is actively engaged in day-to-day operations. Clients enjoy working with him, and Watson is able to experience what his career can look like after graduation.
“There is nothing more high-impact than the opportunities Brendan has to develop content, work with clients and develop professional skills,” Dschaak added. “This partnership between UND and the business community, through InternGF, is helping develop a vibrant community and a productive, modern workforce.”