Winona State University may be in the middle of summer break, but the university’s office of Innovative Community Engagement and StartUp Winona State is rapidly expanding and growing the venues of opportunity for WSU students and graduates seeking internships and permanent employment.
Director Will Kitchen has been busy collaborating with dozens of start-up companies and non-profits across Southeast Minnesota and beyond, including Live-Give-Save, CytiLyfe, Southern MN Initiative Foundation, Growth and Justice, Bridges Health Winona, and 100 Rural Women, to name a few. Through these partners, students and graduates in the areas of data science, civic engagement, tech support, telehealth research, marketing and social media, retail and web coding have been able to take advantage of opportunities available this summer.
Kitchen says that these opportunities are a result of positive, active networking – and that networking has grown into additional opportunities for students. According to Kitchen, companies he has worked with have been continually impressed with the quality of WSU students and are placing requests for additional opportunities they have. He has also been contacted by various professors with requests to find placements for students who have gone above and beyond in their academic work.
Kitchen explains that his role is to remove any barriers while also making connections between students and opportunities, “showing students what’s possible.” He reflects that he wishes he had an older “Will” to mentor him when he was younger, providing a sounding board, a connector, a support system, and a mentor to navigate steps between classroom learning and learning while on the job.
Kitchen also recognizes challenges facing local communities, especially college towns. “Our smaller local towns are hurting due to the lack of young people staying to work in their fields.” Kitchens hopes the program will expand and help change that trend, resulting in thriving new generations of professionals and newly infused communities.
One such young professional is WSU student Brynn Artley, who is currently interning with Will Kitchen himself. A film studies major and marketing minor, Artley says Kitchen had heard of her media work as a student worker in the university’s Marketing and Communications office and reached out to her with the internship opportunity.
Creating websites, maintaining social media accounts, networking with constituent company leaders, and writing marketing pieces, Artley says she is not only learning directly while on the job, but really being challenged to grow by “doing”. “I am learning more about story-telling, taking what I see happen, telling it truthfully,” she says, “but also to frame it in such a way to make people pay attention.”
Artley never knew how many start-up companies exist in the Southeast Minnesota region, and is “thrilled to be meeting so many different people from all walks of work.” She is also excited to sharpen her networking skills within the context of her marketing career, “Taking what you have internally conceptualized and bringing that out to the external world.”
Anyone interested in discussing internship ideas and position opportunities with WSU’s Innovative Community Engagement and StartUp Winona State is invited to contact Will Kitchen directly. More information can be found at winona.edu/startup. Let the networking begin.