Two ways a unique internship program is opening doors

Juniors and seniors in college often seek internships, looking for ways to distinguish themselves among their peers. Great River Energy’s internship program is unique in more ways than one, and the differences are making it a huge success.

Start them early, watch them grow
The purpose of Great River Energy’s internship program is to provide a well-rounded experience for interns by providing exposure to the business world, the utilities industry and the cooperative. It’s part of the larger recruitment strategy Great River Energy has in place to attract and retain a skilled, diverse and engaged workforce.

“One way our program stands out is that we hire interns in their freshman or sophomore years of college and they stay with us through graduation,” said Heather Bittle, talent and outreach partner for Great River Energy.

Jack Vehmeier, a junior at the University of Minnesota pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, is working as a computer engineer intern at Great River Energy.

“The opportunity and emphasis on working more than one summer allows interns to really learn a wide variety of skills compared to other one-summer internships where the learning may be rushed or narrower,” Vehmeier said.

Great River Energy currently employs 12 interns who work between eight and 10 hours per week during the school year and full-time in summer.

“Working alongside engineers and experiencing the work that is done is a great opportunity for me to gain valuable skills that I will continue using in my career journey,” said Jazmin Medina Banuelos, telecommunications engineering intern, who is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota pursuing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.

Over time, Great River Energy’s interns become part of the cooperative’s community.

“We teach our interns about our culture and the value of community,” Bittle said, “and we facilitate relationship-building among them so they have peer-to-peer connections.”

Opportunities for learning are scheduled throughout the year. Since the spring of 2020, due to the pandemic, events for the interns have been held virtually. Students have logged into online meetings to hear guest speakers from Great River Energy, participate in coffee chat sessions, receive instruction on how to use LinkedIn, learn resume writing tips and discuss assigned readings.

Jesse Schloesser, a former Great River Energy intern, recently graduated from Dunwoody College of Technology with an associate degree in computer networking systems. He now works for Great River Energy as a full-time operations analyst in the information technology division.

“The internship provided me with real world experience that you just can’t simulate in a classroom environment. You can only learn so much from lectures and labs,” Schloesser said.

Opening doors to opportunity
Providing job experience for students before they enter the job market is one way Great River Energy’s internship program opens doors, but the program now goes a step further. Over the last several years, the cooperative has broadened its reach beyond the few select universities and technical schools it had traditionally worked with.

“Inclusion is one of our core company values and as our investment in diversity, equity and inclusion has grown, our internship strategies have grown as well,” said Lisa Orpen, human resources director for Great River Energy.

Over the last four years, Great River Energy worked with 21 different colleges and universities to diversify the talent pool. The cooperative attends career fairs at various schools, offers mock interviews and classroom visits, provides resume reviews and career awareness events, and participates in events that focus on diversity such as “Military Mondays” at Minneapolis Community Technical College.

“Our interns are coming to Great River Energy with unique backgrounds, experiences and education. Not only are we now seeing more women, minorities and veterans, we are also getting more diversity of thought,” Orpen said. “We know by focusing on inclusion in our internship program, we are opening doors for students who may not have had these opportunities in the past.”