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Kevin Allen - 5/23/2015

For most college students, summer is a break from schoolwork and an important time to explore what may be their life's work.

It's also a crucial season for employers trying to convince those students they should stay in the South Bend area after graduation.

Local organizations have stepped up their efforts in the past few years to make more internship opportunities available here and help interns realize what the region has to offer.

The St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce started internSJC in 2013 to publicize available services such as, a statewide website that matches interns and employers, and EARN Indiana, which provides subsidies for businesses that hire interns.

The Chamber also has a Summer Community Engagement Program that organizes activities for interns who are here for the summer. Almost 60 people participated in the program last year.

"The goal is to get them out in the community — especially the kids who aren't from here," said Kate Lee, the Chamber's director of talent engagement. "Kids are more likely to stay in a place where they feel connected."

The Lilly Endowment gave another boost to local internship opportunities last year when the philanthropic foundation gave $3 million to the University of Notre Dame.

The university devoted the five-year grant to expanding enFocus, a fellowship program founded in 2012 to connect recent graduates with projects at local organizations. The funding has enabled enFocus to create an internship program in addition to the fellowships. More than 60 interns have been matched with local opportunities thanks to the Lilly grant.

David Murphy, associate dean of entrepreneurship for the Colleges of Science and Engineering at Notre Dame and director of the university's Engineering, Science, Technology & Entrepreneurship Excellence Master’s program, said he and others at the university have worked hard to introduce students to South Bend. 

"They're coming from all over the world and come here for Notre Dame and its reputation and what the degree can mean to them," he said. "But we try to show them there's a lot happening in South Bend right now. There's sort of a renaissance feeling."

The ESTEEM program is one of the organizations that created enFocus, but the program is not only for Notre Dame students.

Murphy said one key is to create local opportunities for underclassmen.

"We're now seeing younger people who, instead of going home to Los Angeles for the summer, they're staying in South Bend," he said. "Our hope is that those interns will be interested in the fellowship program or use South Bend as a place to conduct their job search and stay in the area."

Another way that enFocus is contributing is by studying the effectiveness of local internships.

The organization has teamed up with to conduct a comprehensive survey that will measure the impact internships have on keeping talented people in the state. The pilot program will focus on learning experiences in St. Joseph County, but the goal is to expand the feedback mechanism statewide.