As a University of Iowa senior from Sioux Center, Iowa, Nick Dykstra isn’t just attending classes and doing homework. He also spends his time installing Apple TVs, designing websites, and building computers—all in the professional, real-world environment of UI Partners.

UI Partners is a program within the UI Office of Research and Economic Development that launched early this summer to help Iowa small businesses keep up with current technologies while helping students gain experience. Businesses can receive a free assessment of their information technology needs, and the UI Partners staff and students develop a plan for the businesses with technology solutions to help them stay competitive. From there, businesses can either sign an agreement to work with UI Partners, or simply take the advice and do something on their own.

More than 50 businesses have taken advantage of UI Partners’ services so far, and the program currently employs three students and one recent graduate. The staff will be interviewing for another student position soon.

Dykstra applied for a position with UI Partners in May. He is pursuing a double major in informatics and international studies and holds a two-year computer science degree from Northwest Iowa Community College.

Dykstra said what drew him to apply for the position with UI Partners was the wide range of technological experience the job would supply.

“I liked the broad range of duties the job included, from web design to different programming scenarios to hardware setups—and working with the small businesses as well,” Dykstra said.

Two of the large, completed projects Dykstra has worked on so far were for Pine Needles, a Cedar Rapids sewing shop, and Lillis Insurance, a company based in Williamsburg, Iowa.

For Pine Needles, Dykstra and his team set up six Apple TVs, each networked together to show digital signage or slideshows, as well as images used in seminars hosted at the shop.

Lillis Insurance hired UI Partners to create a new website. The website is set up so the company can manage it and make changes whenever there is news to add.

Dykstra said working in a professional setting and making connections in the local business community will also be useful to him after graduation.

“I think it’s a great experience for my future after school to be able to step into a more professional setting,” Dykstra said. “This position will help make it an easy transition.”

Small businesses involved with UI Partners also benefit from the program. The initial technology assessment is free, and services are offered at a discounted rate since students are doing the work.

The UI Partners program was established by the UI Office of Research and Economic Development to help small Iowa businesses innovate and grow by solving information technology (IT) challenges and providing technical training.. More information at http://uipartners.uiowa.edu/.