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Mitacs internship provides students with real-world experience

University of Winnipeg students Shane Kustra and Cassidy Miller have been working with local organizations this fall as part of Mitacs Business Strategy Internship program.

Amidst a pandemic and move to online learning, eight University of Winnipeg students gained valuable workplace experience during the fall term as part of the new Mitacs Business Strategy Internship (BSI) program.

The 16-week program provides undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to develop a partnership with a small- or medium-sized company or not-for-profit enterprise. The award provides $10,000 to students who develop a project designed to help the organization restore or modify business operations in the new economic environment.

I’ve learned how much I want to help people and how good it feels to potentially make a difference in my city.

Cassidy Miller

Discovering a new passion

Shane Kustra is a fourth-year business and administration student majoring in marketing. With graduation on the horizon, he wanted to gain industry experience before entering into the workforce.

After learning about the Mitacs program, he immediately signed up and has been working as a marketing intern with Florists Supply since September, assisting with content creation in the company’s advertising as it celebrates its 85th anniversary.

“I’ve been creating Instagram and blog posts, doing internal communications, and helping with the day-to-day marketing by highlighting different products and flowers,” Kustra explained.

UWinnipeg alumna Ava Jerao, Director of Marketing at Florists Supply, called Kustra an “incredible addition” to the team.

She’s taken a mentorship approach when working with Kustra by focusing on providing him with practical skills to help him be competitive and successful as a candidate for marketing roles in the future.

“What has impressed me most about Shane is his enthusiasm to learn,” she said. “He’s expressed how interesting it’s been applying what he’s learned in textbooks to practice in a real-life situation.”

University of Winnipeg alumna Ava Jerao

When Kustra started his degree, he was set on working with a sports franchise in their marketing department; however, since starting with Florists Supply, he’s grown to love content marketing. The highlight of his internship has been the engagement he’s seen on his marketing materials and having his bosses recognize his work with positive feedback. 

“It’s really given me a lot more perspectives on the skills I’ve learned and how they can be used in different marketing roles,” he explained. “Florists Supply has really allowed me to learn at my own pace when I got there. They’ve been very patient and I’ve learned quite a lot as a result.”

While the BSI program provides students like Kustra the opportunity to gain real-world experience, the businesses participating, like Florists Supply, are also benefitting.  

“Having Shane support our marketing team has allowed us to spotlight campaigns we may not have been able to, as well as provide us more time to adapt to the twists and turns of our existing climate,” Jerao said. “I’d recommend other businesses partner with post-secondary institutions like UWinnipeg if they haven’t already.”

Making a difference in the community

Five of the BSI interns are part of the Inner-City Work Study program. Even though the pandemic altered the traditional program structure, all of the students have had great experiences.

“Students are getting hands-on experience doing a project for a social enterprise or not-for-profit with real-life consequences,” said Kerniel Aasland, Program Coordinator, Inner-City Work Study. “At the same time, it’s done in an environment with guardrails — each student has an academic supervisor and is working with someone in the host organization.”

While the experience is a great opportunity for students, Aasland also noted the importance it has for the social enterprises, as students are providing a helping hand when they needed it the most.

Inner-City Work Study students have worked with Wakopa Financial Workers’ Co-operative, Thrive Community Support Circle, Canadian Goodwill Industries, Peg City Car Co-op, and the Spence Neighbourhood Association.

“While it’s been a challenging, it’s also been very exciting for the students,” he said. 

Cassidy Miller has been a UWinnipeg student since 2015. After starting her studies in the Faculty of Science, she eventually moved to the Faculty of Business and Economics where she’s expected to graduate with a BBA in April.

Cassidy is part of the Inner-City Work Study program and, since September, has been working with Kristy Muckosky from Thrive Community Support Circle to determine how to best utilize marketing techniques to raise more awareness for the store and bring in more customers.

“Thrive does so many good things for the community,” said Miller. “It has been so rewarding just knowing that through this internship, I can help them grow as an organization to keep helping people in Winnipeg.”

Miller has been interested in working with a co-operative enterprise, such as a credit union, after her studies; however, the internship has really changed her outlook and broadened the paths she’d consider pursuing.

“I hadn’t really considered working in social enterprise before, but after seeing the important jobs that people in Thrive hold, I have started thinking about that as a potential career path,” she said.

Juggling school and an internship during a global pandemic hasn’t been easy, but it’s taught Miller a lot about herself.

“I’ve learned how much I want to help people,” she explained, “and how good it feels to potentially make a difference in my city. I would like to continue doing that.”

More internships and opportunities ahead

“Mitacs is extremely proud to support University of Winnipeg students through the Business Strategy Internship program,” said Dr. John Hepburn, Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director. “Not only has the program provided students new opportunities that otherwise would not have existed, the internships come at a critical time to help both students and business when many companies were downsizing or closing their doors.”

With the new year underway, the number of students participating in the BSI program is expected to increase, according to UWinnipeg’s Lynn Bailey, Director of Work-Integrated Learning and External Partnerships.

“The program will be continuing to grow,” said Bailey. “We have two more internships that have recently started and we have a number of other organizations wanting to get involved. This program has provided us with an additional avenue to support work-integrated learning, which is a key element in supporting Manitoba’s economic growth strategy.”

The Mitacs and UWinnipeg partnership provides benefits throughout the economy. Students are gaining valuable work experience; organizations and companies are receiving support for key projects; and, ultimately, the province is seeing increased employment and economic activity.

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