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New internship program aims to keep UW grads in western Wisconsin

| Judy Berthiaume (story); Glen Mabie (video)

Three University of Wisconsin System institutions in western Wisconsin are joining with a regional economic development organization to create a new internship program designed to keep graduates in the area after college.

UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls, UW-Stout and Momentum West have created the University of Wisconsin Internship Network (UWIN), a shared initiative aimed at encouraging more western Wisconsin businesses to establish internship and co-op programs.

UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt, UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen, UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer, and Steven Jahn, executive director of Momentum West, jointly announced the new program last week.

UWIN’s goal is to connect more students at the three universities with small- and mid-size businesses in the 10-county region served by Momentum West, helping students gain professional experience and establish connections with area businesses, Jahn says.

Through the UWIN initiative, Momentum West staff will help educate regional businesses about the value of internship and co-op programs, and provide them with information about best practices when starting and maintaining quality programs, Jahn says.

The businesses then will work with career services staff at the three universities to identify students to fill their internship or co-op positions.

“We are really excited to be part of a collaboration that is designed to create new opportunities for our students, while also helping to increase the number of graduates who stay in our region,” says Staci Heidtke, associate director of Career Services at UW-Eau Claire. “This could be a model for how higher education and economic development agencies can work together to address talent shortages and better meet our regional workforce needs.”

UWIN is built around the idea that internships and co-ops benefit both students and businesses, and that increasing the number of internships will help address workforce needs in western Wisconsin.

Internships and co-ops promote academic, career and personal development in students, while allowing businesses to assess how a student might contribute to and fit into their organization. Students also bring fresh and innovative ideas into a workplace, including knowledge of the newest technologies.

“Participating in an internship or co-op experience is truly a part of the UW-Stout culture and seen as essential to a student’s career and professional development,” says Bryan Barts, director of Career Services at UW-Stout. “We are excited that the UWIN collaboration is helping provide increased opportunities for students to apply what they are learning in the classroom, while also focusing on engaging more employers in our region looking for talent.”

Growing the number of businesses offering internships will help more students discover the career opportunities available in the region, which will encourage more students to stay in western Wisconsin after they graduate.

While many large businesses have well-established internship programs, fewer small- and medium-size organizations have them, often because they don’t understand the many benefits, don’t know how to start a program or are unsure of how to run a quality internship or co-op program.

UWIN aims to grow awareness and understanding so more of those small- and mid-size businesses will participate.

“We all agree that having an internship is a critical part of the career development process,” says Melissa Wilson, director of Career Services at UW-River Falls. “The opportunity to develop skills in a professional environment complements the learning that takes place in the classroom and adds value to the entire educational experience. The UWIN collaboration is designed to increase the number of internships available for students in the region, which results in a win-win for employers and students.”

Momentum West is a regional economic development organization that serves 10 counties in western Wisconsin — counties that are home to many small- and medium-size businesses as well as UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls and UW-Stout.

For more information about the collaboration, see the UWIN website or the UWIN video.