Community Partner Featured Study USA

Community Partner Feature: Michael Dahl

Collaboration with community partners brings HECUA’s model of transformational learning to life. We know that the 15-20 hours a week students spend interning with a local organization is just as valuable as the time they spend inside the classroom. Periodically, we feature the community partners who make experiential learning possible.

Meet HECUA internship site supervisor, Michael Dahl. Michael Dahl is the Public Policy Director at HOME Line, a Minnesota non-profit tenant advocacy organization based in Bloomington, MN. Michael has partnered as a HECUA internship site supervisor for nearly twenty years. We sat down with Michael to hear more about his experience working alongside HECUA students.

Why HECUA? Michael says that there’s just something different about working with HECUA students.

“I find that  every intern I work with increases my own capacity to do social justice work immensely. Just this past semester, I was working with two HECUA interns who delved into the debates that were happening in the state legislature last year so we could be better prepared for legislative action in 2020. They helped write an application for HOME Line’s agenda to be put in a larger coalition’s agenda. They application wouldn’t have been nearly as detailed or well thought-out without them.

The most recent HECUA interns not only helped with this large application, but they came up with their own project as well.

They also got very creative and wanted to make videos that explain to real people how policy issues impact their day to day lives. I wouldn’t have been able to do these videos on my own.

There are some organizations where having an intern can be a burden to an organization, but with HECUA you get more in return. Part of getting so much in return is that they are immersing themselves for 150-200 hours on site, so they can really take ownership for something the organization couldn’t do on its own.”

Elle, Andra, and Michael each have a fist raised in the air in celebration of the last day of the internship. HOME Line logo is featured in the background on the wall.
Internship supervisor Michael Dahl with Inequality in America student interns Andra Metcalfe and Elle Nelson on the last day of their internship at HOME Line. Photo credit, Eric Hauge.

At HECUA, what students learn about in the classroom is often reflected in the work they do in an internship. The students who intern at HOME Line are often enrolled in HECUA’s Inequality in America program, which critically examines why and how different kinds of inequality (socioeconomic, racial, gender, religious, etc.) exist in the U.S.

I like how immersed the students are in the issue of poverty and related aspects,” Michael said. “They do so in a way that isn’t about admiring the problem or just studying it, but trying to find solutions over the course throughout the semester. I get to work with these passionate and creative people.

I’ve also found that because there is so much emphasis on teamwork in the classroom, students want to do teamwork activities with me or other interns at the organization. That’s a strength they bring to the organization and it’s something I thrive on. I believe we should be working in partnership with other people and organizations to find solutions. HECUA models that in the classroom and it spills over into the way student approach their work as well.”

Whether it’s a student’s approach to teamwork, or their knowledge of poverty issues gained from classroom discussions, Michael says that HECUA students bringing their ideas “helps me get the creative juices flowing for different campaigns we’re working on.”

Issues relating to poverty and housing are what Michael works at addressing every day as Public Policy Director. He offers that while these issues can seem challenging to overcome, a HECUA student can offer a refreshing perspective to finding solutions.

Poverty doesn’t have to be a natural thing,” Michael explains. “I hear the students grapple with the fact that poverty levels have changed over time, and there are reasons for those changing poverty levels. Take the increase in homelessness, for example. The number of people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota has more than tripled in the span of nearly three decades.  This tells me that we don’t need to accept the large numbers we are witnessing now because it’s been different in the past. It’s great to work with students who understand that there is history to these problems. HECUA students see the history and that change is possible when you own your power and band together with other people with similar world views.”

When asked if he has a favorite HECUA moment or memory, Michael assured us that he has no favorite interns. However, there was one student who left a particular impression on HOME Line.

Typically, each student Michael supervises has some kind of project to work on. With one student in particular, deciding on a project was difficult, until Michael saw her doing some sketches.

“She wasn’t really interested in politics and we couldn’t figure out what her project should be, but then I saw her doing some sketches. At the time, we were working on something called renters credit. This credit often comes under attack in legislation. She and another intern came up with the idea that legislators who supported the renter’s credit were superheroes. She drew one sketch and she cut out the face of a legislator and drew a superhero body ‘swooping in to save the day to keep the lights on for a tenant’ or ‘helping a student overcome student debt.’ At that point I told her, ‘this isn’t just going to be something you do, this is going to be your whole project.’”

She then spent the entire semester working on these sketches to give to legislators who supported the renter’s credit. In total, she created about eight posters for different legislators who were supportive of the bill.

Later, Michael would hear stories of how these posters were put on display in legislators’ offices.

“It became a form of building camaraderie among the legislators themselves, too. One would walk into another’s office and see the same poster that she had hanging in her office and say ‘hey, we’re both champions of the renter’s credit!’ It also helped the legislators to build rapport in their communities, as well as draw recognition to HOME Line’s work. That was just once instance where a student’s work really left a lasting impression,” Michael said.

After years of working with HECUA students as interns, Michael reflects that “It’s kind of like a positive infestation. When I introduce students to someone in the legislature, they will know the name of HECUA and recognize the quality of the internship. I’m proud to be a part of HECUA because I see what other people think about it. It’s not just the projects we do internally, but it’s how we are known and seen in the community… For me, it’s been a great partnership working with HECUA students.”

Thank you, Michael for your ongoing partnership as an internship site supervisor. HECUA is proud to support the important work of HOME Line. 

Is your organization interested in becoming an internship site? Contact Program Manager Rachel Svanoe Moynihan at rsvanoemoynihan@hecua.org.

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