While Grinnell College students have always been involved in the town community, it wasn’t until recently that an official mechanism came into existence to help students connect with local organizations. Since its inception in 2010, the school’s Student Apprentices in Nonprofit Management program has facilitated the placement of students in apprentice positions at various Grinnell area nonprofits. This year, six students are participating.

The program is a collaboration between the Office of Community Enhancement & Engagement and five local nonprofits concerned with arts, economic development and philanthropy. These nonprofits are the Poweshiek Iowa Development, Imagine Grinnell, the Grinnell Area Arts Council, the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation and the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce.

Community Enhancement & Engagement Apprentice Tyler Banas ’13 (center) flanked by Program and Communications Manager Melissa Strovers (left) and Director Monica Chavez-Silva. Photographed by Linnea Hurst.

The program stemmed out of local organizations’ desire to work with students for longer periods of time.

“What I was hearing from some of these nonprofit executives was that, when we get a Grinnell College student, sometimes it can be really good, [but the students may have] other commitments that come up that they are only able to work for a short period of time,” said Monica Chavez-Silva, Director of Community Enhancement & Engagement.

The solution was to create a program that enabled students to work more intimately with the nonprofits over a yearlong period.

Since the program began in 2010, student apprentices have been paired with one of the host organizations, working 12 to 15 hours a week during the school year and 20 to 40 hours a week during summer. The students are often given significant responsibilities and the opportunity to develop their own professional projects.

Ami Shrestha ’13 works for the Claude W. & Dolly Ahrens Foundation, a Grinnell-based philanthropic organization. As part of her apprenticeship, Shrestha participated in a community-wide needs assessment survey, a project that the Ahrens Foundation is doing in collaboration with a number of different foundations in Grinnell. Shrestha researched, analyzed and replicated data to contribute to the assessment report.

“We are doing it for the City of Grinnell, so that we can gather responses and feedback from the community in order to help community members and leaders make informed decisions about what is needed and quality of life in Grinnell,” Shrestha said. “Right now, we are working on getting the report published. It has been a success, a long project that has come to a good end. We are looking forward to sharing our findings with the community.”

Tyler Banas ’13 works with the Office of Community Enhancement & Engagement itself. He played a large role in helping organize the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) 2011 event in Grinnell.

“I [helped] in coordinating our meetings to keep everybody on track, making sure all the tasks were being completed and also some cartography as well as coordinating the events through maps,” Banas said.
For Chavez-Silva, Banas’ presence was invaluable.

“Tyler was understating his role,” Chavez-Silva said. “This was a huge logistical coordination for the entire community. There are some of us who do this for a living, and it was giant. There was no way I could fulfill my obligations without his help.”

Undoubtedly, the apprentices are gaining a variety of skills that they will be able to use in their future careers. This includes skills as varied as logistical planning, grant writing, cartography and graphic design.

The professional experience can be incredibly important to the apprentices. Their internships include workshops, close relationships with their nonprofits’ executive managers, weekly lunches with fellow apprentices and the nonprofit directors, as well as opportunities to network.

For example, Banas was introduced to IowaSTEM, a state-wide initiative guided by the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council and the Iowa Mathematics and Science Education Partnership, through a conference hosted by his organization. He will be attending one of their summits in the near future.

“I’ve heard from the directors, ‘wow, these students are good.’ Not because they have a marketing or accounting degree, but because they know how to write, they know how to ask the right questions, they know how to come up with creative solutions. And those are all the liberal arts skills,” Chavez-Silva said. “We are getting people in the community who are getting hands-on experience on the value of a Grinnell education.”

Ultimately, the program has given many of the apprentices a unique opportunity to get involved with and make a meaningful contribution to the larger Grinnell community.

“[Grinnell Area Arts Council] serves as an umbrella organization for a lot of community arts programming, such as Grinnell Community Theater [and] community band,” said Arts Council Apprentice Mary Rellergert ’13. “It’s a really neat opportunity to build a relationship with people in the community. I sometimes fill in for the teachers; I get to work with kids, artists, community members and I now have such a better understanding of how the town of Grinnell operates.”

For the student apprentices, the program has been undeniably fulfilling.

“This has been one of the best semesters at Grinnell because of the Arts Council program,” Rellergert said.

For the 2013-2014 school year, applications to be a student apprentice are due Friday, April 12, 2013 at 5 p.m. to Melissa Strovers, the Program and Communications Manager of Community Enhancement and Engagement. Interviews will be conducted the week of April 22 and announcements made by May 6.