Students of Culver-Stockton College, located in Canton, Missouri, walking on campus. (Photo courtesy of the college)

In an effort to stand out among other institutions, a rural college in northeast Missouri is starting an internship program to connect students with real-world community and economic development initiatives. 

Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Missouri, has partnered with Tri-State Development, a consortium of 36 counties in northeast Missouri, southeast Iowa and west-central Illinois that work to provide economic development opportunities and initiatives. They will offer an internship program starting in the fall of 2023, said Leslie Sieck, vice president for Economic and Workforce Development at Culver-Stockton College and executive director of Tri-State Development. 

“We are starting an internship as a pilot this year,” she told the Daily Yonder. “We will have Tri-State Development interns who participate at the community level with the influencers and those who are really moving economic development and community development initiatives forward.”

She added that it could be with elected officials or economic development professionals or business leaders in the community who are making decisions that impact the communities that their companies are located in.

The internship will “provide our students with an opportunity to really have a front row seat, about what civic engagement really is all about.”

“It’s way beyond just doing service projects in the community,” Sieck said. ”It’s about lending their voice to issues, to challenges, to be part of a think-tank that comes up with solutions, all the way to helping to implement them. And what we want our students to feel is that they’re part of the process and that they don’t have to leave the region in order to make an impact.”

Sieck said the school wants to provide the type of experiences that demonstrate to students that they can change the world from right in rural Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois. 

“Our rural communities are very relevant to global conversations, offering significant resources, ingenuity, and innovative problem-solving,” she said. “By providing students the opportunity to work alongside leaders and influencers in the area, we are inspiring and developing a generation of engaged citizens who understand the value of getting involved, who know the importance of this region to the rest of the world, and have developed the leadership skills to make positive things happen.”

In January 2022, philanthropist Thomas A. Oakley donated $1 million to Culver-Stockton College to support the college in serving as the administrative home of the Tri-State Development, an organization that he helped launch nearly 30 years ago. On April 1, 2022, Tri-State Development at Culver-Stockton College was officially formed. Five months later, it relaunched as a community-facing academic program.

Tri-State Development has created several task forces to bring together community leaders around topics and initiatives, including rural revitalization and transportation. 

“Tri-State Development offers our students, and others from our consortium, a chance to engage in real-world problem-solving, right in their own community,” said Lauren Schellenberger, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Culver-Stockton College. “This helps them connect theory with application, and they can practice both the technical skills and the transferable skills that are so important for employability. Participation in the Tri-State Development Summit and other Tri-State Development activities are resume items that indicate truly valuable experience.”

A summit will be held September 13-14 in Quincy, Illinois. The Summit will bring together leaders from all 36 rural counties and is open to the public.

Schellenberger said that as a rural institution, they have the advantage of knowing the community. 

“Our students deserve the opportunity to connect to this region in a meaningful way, and that is what this unique program accomplishes,” she added.

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