New grant will fund internships for Eau Claire students with financial need

Great Lakes Higher Education provides $325,000 to fund internships for STEM jobs in the Chippewa Valley


Photo by Gabriel Lagarde

Staci Heidtke, the associate director of Career Services, is the author of the grant and intends for the internships to be opportunities for students and the Chippewa Valley business community.

UW-Eau Claire students will get a boost in the Chippewa Valley job market next year, thanks to a new grant that will create 225 internships for juniors and seniors from 2016 to 2018.

The Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation awarded the university $325,000 to fund internships for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — students in the Chippewa Valley, the university announced in a press release it posted to the Leader-Telegram Oct. 22.

The new STEM internships cater specifically to students with financial need in order to offer valuable on-the-job experience with positions that pay students salaries they can use to support themselves.

Staci Heidtke, associate director of Eau Claire’s Career Services and author of the grant, said unpaid and low-salary internships aren’t feasible for some students and lack of experience can hurt their long-term job goals once they graduate.

“The number one way that a student finds a job is through an internship at this point,” she said, “so employers often recruit just from their internship pools.”

Assistant professor of mathematics Hershel Day said the job market has grown increasingly competitive following the Great Recession and an influx of potential employees over the years. He said employers are now picking from a much larger pool of applicants and can be more selective with their hiring process.

“So, if (employers are) down to two candidates who on paper are the same, but one has an internship experience, a three month, in-depth on-the-job experience and the other doesn’t,” Day said, “they’re going to lean internship every time.”

The grant is designed to counteract the results of a skills-gap survey released last year, Heidtke said. According to the survey, jobs in STEM fields are deficient in the Chippewa Valley job market. Heidtke said the new STEM internships cover a wide range of professions, which may also include students from traditionally non-STEM fields as long as they have the skills and qualifications for their internships.

While the internships are currently in the formative stages and won’t be available to students until January, Heidtke said the university’s goal is for applicants to begin applying by late November and interviews with employers to start taking place before semester finals in December.