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Great Lakes grant to fund 225 new STEM internships in Chippewa Valley

| Alison Wagener

As college students approach graduation, many realize that landing a job in their field will require more than what they’ve learned in the classroom.

On top of a college degree, employers also seek relevant experience in job candidates.

UW-Eau Claire students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields soon will see 225 new internship opportunities in the Chippewa Valley, thanks to a grant from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp.

Great Lakes is a nonprofit organization committed to helping Midwestern at-risk students get into and through college. This fall, Great Lakes awarded UW-Eau Claire a 2015-2018 Career Ready Internship Grant totaling $326,028.

UW-Eau Claire will use the grant to place juniors and seniors with financial need in paid internships in STEM fields. The internships will be available beginning in January.

The Great Lakes grant period continues through May 2018, but UW-Eau Claire will work in partnership with local employers to ensure the internships remain sustainable beyond then.

Staci Heidtke, associate director of Career Services, said the grant will have an important impact on UW-Eau Claire, its students and the surrounding community.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for UW-Eau Claire students and Chippewa Valley employers,” Heidtke said. “Internships provide students with meaningful work experiences and often lead to full-time professional jobs. This grant also provides an opportunity to address the skills gap in the local economy.”

The skills gap is a salient issue in the Eau Claire area. According to a recent Skills Gap Local Labor Market Survey, engineering, information systems and technology all are areas in which there are hard-to-fill positions in the Chippewa Valley. The STEM internships offered as a result of UW-Eau Claire’s Great Lakes grant will have the potential to turn into full-time jobs, therefore narrowing the Chippewa Valley’s skills gap in those areas, Heidtke said.

The paid internships created by the Great Lakes grant will be the first at UW-Eau Claire to be reserved specifically for students with financial need. Internships for college students are often unpaid, which makes it challenging for students with financial need to pursue such experiences, Heidtke said.

“Paid internships allow students to meet their financial needs while also gaining real-world experience in their fields of study, giving them a competitive edge in the job market after graduation and allowing them to build their professional networks,” Heidtke said.

Providing additional internship opportunities also supports UW-Eau Claire’s objective to ensure that every student benefits from a high-impact learning experience before graduation. Internships are one of the types of transformative learning experiences sought for all Blugold students, Heidtke said, noting that while currently 57 percent of UW-Eau Claire students have an internship experience, the Great Lakes grant will help increase that percentage.

About Great Lakes: Dedicated to making college education a reality since 1967.

Knowing that education has the power to change lives for the better, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates was established as a nonprofit group focused on a single objective: helping students nationwide prepare for and succeed in postsecondary education and student loan repayment. As a leading student loan guarantor and servicer, we have been selected by the U.S. Department of Education to provide assistance and repayment planning to more than 8 million borrowers — as well as assistance to colleges and lenders nationwide. Our group's earnings support one of the largest and most respected education philanthropy programs in the country. Since 2006, we have committed nearly $154 million in grant funding to promote higher education access and completion for students of color, low-income students, and first-generation students. For additional information, visit home.mygreatlakes.org.

Photo caption: UW-Eau Claire biology major Allison Ban-Herr helped locate and identify invasive plant species as an intern with Beaver Creek Reserve in rural Fall Creek.