Go, Fight, Uwin

three colleges work to keep grads in western Wisconsin

Abby Norton

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS. UW-Eau Claire students and recruiters mingle at a career conference. A new program aims to connect more students with local internships.
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS. UW-Eau Claire students and recruiters mingle at a career conference. A new program aims to connect more students with local internships.

Three western Wisconsin universities are teaming up to help their students’ job prospects as well as the region’s economy.

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, recently announced the creation of the University of Wisconsin Internship Network (UWIN). Designed to increase internship placements at regional companies, UWIN will increase student awareness of employment opportunities and, hopefully, result in more UW System students staying in the area after graduation.

“Internships are also a chance for students to test-drive a career and decide if the career they’re planning for is a good fit.” – Staci Heidtke, associate director of Career Services, UW-Eau Claire

Jahn said UWIN will link students with small- and medium-sized employers in the 10 western Wisconsin counties served by Momentum West, a regional economic development organization. According to UWEC, “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.”

Staci Heidtke, associate director of Career Services at UWEC, said the new collaboration is exciting. “Internships offer students the chance to gain relevant professional experience,” Heidtke said. Practical experiences such as internships and co-ops are becoming increasingly popular among university students, and some programs even require them.

However, internships often serve to help students decide what they don’t want to do, just as much as it can solidify their career paths. “Internships are also a chance for students to test-drive a career and decide if the career they’re planning for is a good fit,” Heidtke said.

Last year more than 60 percent of U.S. college students participated in internships or co-op positions, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Class of 2017 Student Survey. As associate director of career services, Heidtke confirmed a similar percentage of UWEC student participation in internships: 55 percent, according to the Class of 2017 First Destination Survey. “Eighty-four percent of those felt more confident in the classroom and 98 percent gained career-enhancing skills,” Heidtke said.

In addition to transferable skills and academic credit, students who participate in internships can earn financial incentives as well. Unfortunately, a fair amount of college internships remain unpaid, which can pose a problem for students who need a source of income to support themselves during their studies. The brains behind UWIN sought to remedy this: All internships through UWIN will pay students for their experiences.

What makes UWIN unique is the joint effort between multiple UW System schools. “It is a bit unusual for our schools to share marketing materials about internships and co-ops, as well as assisting employers to design an internship program that we all benefit from by posting with all three campuses,” Heidtke said. “We realize we are better together.”

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin Internship Network at www.momentumwest.org/workforce/uwin.

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