NIU students making a difference across DeKalb County

Over the past three years, a small army of NIU undergraduates has been quietly making a big difference in the lives of people across DeKalb County by working paid internships with area nonprofits.

NIU faculty, staff, students and community leaders gathered for the NGO Reception during fall ’17.

The nonprofit organizations run the gamut, ranging from Tails Humane Society and Ellwood House Museum to Fox Valley Older Adult Services and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of DeKalb County.

Funded by a generous grant from the Douglas C. and Lynn M. Roberts Family Foundation, the internships are coordinated by a collaboration between the NIU Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies, NIU Career Services and the DeKalb County Nonprofit Partnership.

Since launching in the fall of 2014, the program has amassed some impressive numbers:

  • 123 student internships at 40 different DeKalb County nonprofits
  • 12,840 work hours logged by the students
  • Value of intern time to local economy over $325,000.

As the main thrust of a Civic Engagement Internship course, each student spends a minimum of 120 direct hours with their assigned nonprofit. Students also meet as a class six times during a semester to gain skills in professional development.

“This is a win-win program, for both our students and our surrounding community,” said Chris Einolf, director of the Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies.

“The internships provide our students with valuable on-the-job experiences and a deeper understanding of the issues facing local communities and the vital work being done by nonprofits,” he said. “In turn, our students deliver valuable services to the nonprofit organizations.”

Catherine Doederlein, director of internships and external relations for NIU Career Services, said the internship is often a student’s first exposure to the working world of nonprofits.

“In many cases, the experience solidifies a student’s professional interest in the field,” she said.

Patricia Davis

Such was the case for Patricia Davis, an NIU junior from the Detroit area. She interned this past fall with the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce. After she graduates, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in public and nonprofit management, eventually working toward a career with an international NGO.

The internship “has been one of the best experiences of my life,” Davis said. “I have learned what it means to be a part of a workplace team, and how to better manage my time with school, my sorority and this internship.”

Davis helped manage social media accounts, document events through photography, market and plan major events in downtown Sycamore and put together press releases and radio advertisements.

“Before this internship, I hadn’t considered working in event planning for the nonprofit sector, but now I feel prepared to plan major fundraising events and have found that I have a great love for this type of work,” she said.

Ben Bingle, director of the DeKalb County Nonprofit Partnership, said he had heard positive feedback from intern supervisors.

“Overall, supervisors are impressed with the structure of the program as well as the skills, talents and fresh perspectives that NIU students bring to these organizations,” he said.  “It’s exciting to see the impact of this program, and none of it would be possible without such strong collaboration between NIU, the nonprofit community and the Roberts Family Foundation.”

Jill Olson, executive director of CASA DeKalb County, said interns have been instrumental in her organization in developing a comprehensive social media plan, marketing for major fundraising events and recruitment of volunteers.

Olson even paid two of her interns the ultimate compliment—by hiring them after their graduations.

“It is important that our local nonprofits are able to keep some of the best and brightest student interns,” she said. “They represent our next generation of leadership in the DeKalb County nonprofit community.”

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