Viterbo University has been able to double the number of paid internships offered to students thanks to grants from Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp.

It awarded the university a $441,758 Career Ready Internship Grant to create more than 300 paid internships over the next three years. Viterbo was one of 33 colleges and universities in Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin awarded $12 million. The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire also received $326,028.

The grant helps provide paid internships to students who have financial need, Viterbo career services director Beth Dolder-Zieke said. The program began in 2013, and Viterbo has been a recipient each year, providing $726,778 in financial support for 482 paid internships, allowing the university to double the number of students served.

“Internships have a big positive impact on students’ academic experiences,” she said. “It’s a good thing, and the research shows students should be doing at least one internship.”

The Great Lakes program began as a $2.5 million pilot at 19 Wisconsin colleges in 2013, with $5.2 million in grants given to 40 colleges in four states last year. This year, the grant program moved to a three-year format, with grant recipients required to cover an increasing percentage of funding after the first year to help sustain their internship programs.

Unpaid internships can be a hurdle for students struggling financially, Dolder-Zieke said, while students from affluent backgrounds better able to absorb lost income. This program helps the university level the playing field.

That was one of the draws for Tess Marriott, a senior studying criminal justice at Viterbo. Last year she was awarded a paid internship with Catholic Charities funded by a Great Lakes grant.

Her internship was 280 hours, hours which she said could have been put into a part-time job. If the internship had been unpaid, Marriott said she would have had to get a second job.

“The grant made it possible for me to do the internship,” she said. “It created a lot less stress.”

The grant also aligns well with the university’s five-year strategic plan, which will require paid internships for every student enrolled in a program that requires completing an internship to graduate. Viterbo already makes this guarantee for students in its business programs, and President Rick Artman said in an interview this summer it was a good time to make the commitment as the workplace is becoming more competitive for graduates.

“It’s the right thing at the right time for Viterbo,” Dolder-Zieke said. “This grant helps the university move the initiative forward at a great pace.”

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Nathan Hansen has been the Education Reporter for the Tribune since 2014. Prior to that, he covered education, agriculture and business topics for the Winona Daily News. He is always on the lookout for news tips and can be contacted at 608-791-8234.

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