Opening Doors

Oct. 19, 2020

Jon and Karin Dinesman support internships to unlock opportunities for today’s changemakers.

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Jon and Karin Dinesman
Jon and Karin Dinesman

Growing up, Jon Dinesman (B.A., Political Science, ‘94; JD, ‘08) was acculturated to healthcare careers through his dad and siblings. Still, he admits he had “no clue” what he wanted for his own profession. Then an internship at the Arizona State Legislature sparked a love of law and policy. The experience inspired him to get his JD and clinched the job that put him on a path where health, law, and policy intersect. “After graduating law school,” he explained, “I was hired by the Arizona House of Representatives, and that would not have happened if it were not for that internship.”

Karin Dinesman (née Singer, B.S., Speech and Hearing Science, ‘95; M.Ed., Special Education, ‘98) has a similar story. As an undergraduate, she had her sights set on teaching Deaf children. She secured an internship at Arizona Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, and that experience recharted the course she’d seen for her career. “I fell in love with the visually impaired kids there,” she explained, and with a new passion, she went on to get her master’s in Special Education and Rehabilitation and work with visually impaired youth in Phoenix for seven years.

Connecting Past, Present, and Future

Today, Karin remains devoted to educating kids, including their own three, the oldest of which begins college this fall. Jon is executive vice president of government relations at Centene, the largest Medicaid managed care organization in the country. Adding in its Medicare programs, private insurance, and programs for federal employees and correctional facilities, Centene today provides healthcare plans to one of every 15 Americans.

“My job is really to help provide a voice for those that, quite frankly, don’t have one,” Jon said. That means oversight of a 70+ team working to eliminate barriers to quality care through state and federal channels as well as national alliances and community outreach: everything from working with governors and state legislators to partnering with the National Urban League and Pro Football Hall of Fame to promote wellness at the community level.

For both Jon and Karin, those early internships are distant memories, with a lot of life between then and now. At the same time, they’re very aware of how those opportunities helped open doors for them and put them on the path to the life they enjoy today. They continue not only to shape how they see the world, but also the world they want to see – a vision that led them to establish the Dinesman Family Endowment in the School of Government and Public Policy, or SGPP.

Giving with Purpose

The endowment has a very intentional focus: help pay for travel, housing, and other expenses associated with internships for undergraduates – costs that too often limit what many students can realistically pursue.

“We want to help make sure that going out of state or even just outside of Tucson doesn’t impede someone’s ability to participate in those opportunities,” Jon said, adding that internships are more than just experiential learning. Great internships can create valuable professional connections. They can open doors to better jobs and put new graduates on paths for advancement. They can be a pipeline to civic leadership.

When an entire class of young people are locked out of those opportunities, the effects can ripple through decades – an injustice that isn’t limited to people with fewer financial resources. Through Karin’s education and career, the Dinesmans recognize that people with disabilities also face extraordinary hurdles, which is why Jon ensures that of the four interns his team takes on annually, at least one is recruited through the American Association of People with Disabilities.

A Mission-Driven Life

More recently, the Dinesmans expanded their support for SGPP to help fund graduate education. For them, that higher-order learning was key to the careers they wanted, though they acknowledge that education – undergraduate, graduate, or something outside of college entirely – plays a much broader and equally important role: preparing youth to be the voices and leaders of change.

“We need to continue to empower young people with the realization that they are the movement that’s going to change things,” Jon explained. By way of example, he notes how two years ago, in the wake of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, it was students who spoke up, organized, and created more dialogue on that issue than ever before – even more than had followed the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy.

It’s a phenomenon that dovetails with another the Dinesmans see in students today – and again one that resonates with their own experiences. “What’s happening now – and it is such a wonderful and much needed change – is that youth are choosing careers based on how they want to advance society,” Jon said. “And I think if colleges continue helping students find their mission, they’re going to be more successful.”

It’s something he’s grateful for in his own education and something he looks for in employees today.

“For those I hire, I’ve never focused on what school they came from, but what that school actually prepared them to do and their own desire to be great. As a partner in a Fortune 50 company, I can tell you that I have been prepared every bit as well as anyone from any other school. I just cannot imagine a school doing better than what the University of Arizona did for Karin and me.”

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This article was part of the 2020 SBS Developments magazine.