Think of it like a dating app to match companies with faculty and students, sort of.

UND has recently partnered with a web company called Riipen to connect students and faculty with companies across the globe to carry out projects and internships. The web-based service facilitates collaborations between higher education and industry to ensure students gain experience as part of a team working on projects with companies in their courses and through individual internships.

Just like building an online dating profile where people can choose to connect with one another if they feel like they would be a good match, Riipen provides a similar service to companies and universities, said Jeff Holm, UND’s vice provost for online education.

"I could go on to Riipen and create a project that would describe what my class is all about," said Holm, noting that such details as how many students are to be involved, how they would work and how it was integrated into the class curriculum would be included. "And then businesses are doing the same thing.”

There are a number of ways businesses can interact with the program and connect to faculty and students. For instance, a business might want to know why sales have plummeted in a certain part of the country, and a class could look into that and give the company real, useful feedback.

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“Faculty can look at the businesses things, businesses can look at the faculty things,” he said. “If we find something that seems to be a good match, we talk about it ... we agree to some terms, and I'm able to put it into my course.”

Holm said it’s important for students, no matter what type of class they’re taking, online or in-person, to get real-world experience working on projects for businesses, government agencies or nonprofits.

This semester is the first for the university using the platform. Holm said the university has a three-year contract with Riipen, however, the university can choose to opt-out of the contract at the end of each year.

The university is inviting local companies to also join Riipen. President Andrew Armacost sent a letter to members of the Chamber of Commerce of East Grand Forks & Grand Forks last week about the partnership.

“Any issue that is important to you is likely a good possibility for a class project or a virtual internship,” Armacost’s letter said.

A few companies already have taken interest, according to Holm, noting the university recently held a webinar with the businesses to discuss the partnership further.

“We're always talking about training the next workforce in North Dakota. This is a great way for businesses to be a part of that and to be able to directly show and tell students what it is they're looking for,” Holm said.

The platform will be used in several classes across campus this spring, including Robert Warren’s marketing course, in which students will be working in small groups assisting partner companies to evaluate their current customer base and gain further market share by improving their targeted prospecting and developing more effective outreach strategies and messaging.

In Warren’s retail management class, students will be working on a project for Oracle Corporation, the tech corporation based in Austin, Texas. The company recently purchased the app TikTok in 2020. Students in the retail marketing class will look at the future of retail over the next five years and give their thoughts and feedback to Oracle.

Warren, who manages a class at a college in Canada, has been aware of Riipen for a couple of years now. He believes the partnership will be good for students, allowing them to make connections with companies they might not otherwise be able to.

“We can now have students work on projects for companies that are much larger than we typically run into in the home market,” he said.

Another course using the platform will be Anne Bodensteiner’s graduate students in the nutrition and dietetics department.

Bodensteiner’s class is entirely online, which means students won’t be able to meet in person for their projects but will instead learn to work online together.

One of her students also will be doing an internship about indiginous health with a company through Riipen.

Bodensteiner said the experience is valuable for a student’s future career as well. If the students do good work, they can be connected to jobs or be given recommendations for future job interviews and applications.

“It's so important for (students) to hear feedback from different people, especially people who are working in the industry and making those connections,” she said.