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Enhancing the internship experience

By Alexandra Wertz '12
April 16, 2010

Kristine Estenson, assistant director of social innovation and entrepreneurship.

Whether it's revising a resume, connecting students with alumni in their field of study, or helping students discover or create internship opportunities, St. Olaf's Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) helps prepare students for the reality of today's job market and gives them vocational skills through internship experiences and civic engagement opportunities.

Most recently, the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Department within the CEL has launched the Innovation Scholars Program to provide select students with a 16-month cycle of training, interning, and reflection. The program includes four main components: educational seminars, a monthly roundtable speaker series, networking and mentoring opportunities, and a paid summer academic internship (.5 credit) in which each student designs and implements an innovative venture within the social or business sector.

The Innovation Scholars Program will support three summer internship experiences:

  • Students selected to intern with entrepreneurial businesses owned or operated by St. Olaf alumni are part of the Estenson Internship program founded in 1996 by Mark '82 and Laura Estenson Johnson '82.
  • The Johnsons also created the Johnson Social Innovation Internship Program in which students design and develop innovative and resourceful approaches to addressing social problems within nonprofit organizations. 
  • The newly created Social Entrepreneurship Environmental Design and Stewardship (SEEDS) internship, founded by Greg and Nancy Carlson ’82, engages students in experiential learning that fosters a deeper understanding of environmental stewardship and sustainable agriculture.

The 16-month Innovation Scholars Program will guide students through training and internships, followed by the chance to mentor new participants as they reflect on their own experiences.

"We know that learning and transfer are richer if students are supported before, during, and after their internship," says Kristine Estenson, assistant director of the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program (no relation to Laura Estenson Johnson). "The Innovation Scholars Program provides a balanced approach with long-term growth opportunities."

While a stipend is an incentive, students will gain unique experience in their personally-designed internships. "I will be working closely with Bob Klefsaas '82 from All Star Financial," Matt Cosgriff '11 says about his summer plans. "Bob has created his own wealth management business that manages more than $2.5 billion in assets. I'm hoping to gain insight into the business, as I'm pretty interested in starting my own financial business."

One of the more unique aspects of this program's expansion is that once students complete their summer months of field work — and process and evaluate that work — they will mentor the next cohort of scholars.

Exclusive seminars
Innovation Scholars will attend a series of five seminars in new venture creation led by Instructor in Economics Sian Muir and current Entrepreneur in Residence Blake Abdella '82. The seminars will educate students about entrepreneurship and help them network with alumni. CEL also will host other alumni speakers and offer one-on-one meetings for students who are a part of the program.

"We hope that as more internships are formulated with alumni, the number of students involved will grow," Estenson says.

Scholars also will have the opportunity to meet with alumni in Washington, D.C., where they will study issues related to entrepreneurship and networking.

"It's necessary for the program to provide more structure, training sessions, round-table discussions, and networking opportunities, because it will provide us with a little more feedback and guidance," Cosgriff explains. "Being able to connect with alumni and other business professionals will allow us to get their opinions and utilize their expertise to make our projects that much better."

Contact David Gonnerman at 507-786-3315 or