“It will definitely give me an edge when moving on to optometry school,” said Shawn Busche, who interned with Associate Optometry in Fairmont last summer as part of Minnesota Valley Action Council’s (MVAC) Martin County Internship Program.
Busche, who hopes to become an eye doctor, was one of 15 students from southcentral Minnesota who participated in the internship program last summer. The program started in 2012 as the brainchild of Martin County Commissioner Steve Pierce who was on MVAC’s Board of Directors at the time.
“The goal was to stop the brain drain of young talent from rural Minnesota to the larger metro areas and encourage college graduates to return home to set up their careers and raise their families,” said Amanda Mackie, executive director of MVAC. “Coming full circle, Steve’s daughter Sara is now on our board.”
The internship program is administered by MVAC in partnership with Martin County which provides the funding to pay the students for their work.
“The students get paid for their internships, which makes this program unique,” said Tammie Hested the MVAC family resources coordinator who manages the internship program. “The students get really great experience and provide huge benefits to the companies they work with. The county commission really sees the value in it and many other counties have reached out interested in creating their own versions.”
Claudia Bleess, who is going to school for marketing and graphic design, worked with two organizations in Fairmont last summer – Avery Weigh-Tronix and Grace Lutheran Church – where she created new logos, websites, animated video graphics and marketing materials. “I really appreciated this opportunity because I will be walking away with many new things to add to my graphic design portfolio as well as my resume.”
Even though COVID-19 prevented Hested from placing several students last year with healthcare internships, students were still able to use the program to network and connect with other opportunities at area nursing homes, meanwhile other internships had to get creative with virtual offerings. “The intern for the community education program developed an online activity curriculum for students to do at home during COVID,” Hested explained. “The program ended up getting 40 students to participate when they had only expected 20 kids.”
Since the program began, about 125 students have participated and though the program hasn’t tracked how many have returned to the area after graduating college, Hested estimates that since she began working with the program four years ago, about a quarter have returned. “It is really the best part of my summer. The kids are so smart and talented.”
The program starts taking online applications in December and is first-come, first-served until the program is filled to capacity at 15 students. Eligible students must be between 18 and 25 years old, attending a two- or four-year college and in good academic standing. The internships usually begin in late May and run through early August. Students work 29 hours per week/240 hours total during the summer. Students are paired with organizations that fit their career interests or goals. The program also includes networking opportunities, a resume workshop and a concluding recognition event with the Martin County Board of Commissioners.