The Internship: New Year’s Resolution for Local Government
Of all the New Year’s resolutions a local government could pursue, from potholes to politics, special attention should be given to the internship. Specifically, attention should be given to the undergraduate internship.
As a sophomore at Indiana University, I have already begun the process of hunting for the perfect internship that will equip me with the tools and experience to pursue a career in urban planning for the future. After many months of searching, I can offer up three important aspects of internships which local governments must make a point of pursuing.
Undergraduate Internships As a Recruitment Tool
While this may seem self-evident and almost humorous, it is true that many local governments do not offer any sort of internship, paid or unpaid. This can be attributed to many factors, perhaps a lack of resources, a lack of need, or a necessity to put a community in a more developed state that could better support the education of student interns.
Even with all of these factors at play, it is undeniable that internships, even unpaid internships, lay a foundation for potential future employees, an engagement of a younger generation of potential leaders and can even contribute to the brand of a community that demonstrates an investment in posterity and opportunity.
When internships are offered by local governments, they are almost always tailored solely for graduate students. This makes perfect sense. Graduates are experienced, capable and established in their chosen fields and certainly ready to reach out into real world experiences. The greatest difference between graduate students in local government and undergraduate students in local government, is certainty. Graduate students are often enrolled specifically in public policy or management programs, while undergraduates could be anywhere from political science to accounting. Weighing the benefits of any number of future career paths. This is why the internship is so pivotal for undergraduates. It is not only an opportunity for real world experience, it is a recruitment tool.
Laura Mazur is President of the Local Government Management Association at Indiana University. As a graduate student, she is well on her way to a very successful career in city management. However, she did not always have her sights set on local government. Laura studied environmental management as an undergraduate at IU. She had almost no familiarity with local government until she took an internship in her hometown of South Bend, Indiana. This exposure completely changed Laura’s path and motivated her to study local government management as a graduate in the School of Public & Environmental Affairs. Exposing students to local government in this way may prove more effective than any recruitment fair or high school field trips. Students will see the field of local government management in all its dynamicity and philanthropy and be engaged in a tangible way.
Provide Meaningful Projects
When I do stumble across local government internships, the common theme among many of them is clerical working, paper pushing and coffee brewing. There is only exposure to the environment of local government, rather than the procedures that go into the governance itself.
In order to make these internships more appealing for undergraduates, it is important to consider project based experiences and learning that allows the students to put into practice skills they are learning in their respective undergraduate programs. I know that when I look for internships, I am always interested in whether the internship will allow me to use skills in writing and geographic information systems. Both skills I have been cultivating as part of my undergraduate degree.
Collaboration is also important. Undergraduates may be unfamiliar with certain aspects of local government. Giving them the opportunity to work with different departments in the city, including planning, finance, development and human resources. This diversity in internship curriculum gives greater exposure to the field of local government and helps undergraduates get a better feel of which field is best for their skill-set.
Pay for What You Get
Compensating an undergraduate intern is extremely subjective and murky. Often times, if an intern is uncompensated, it is because the community is in recession or does not have the resources to offer wages or a stipend. In other situations, communities may offer graduate and undergraduate internships, but only the graduate interns receive compensation. After discovering that a high number of local government internships were unpaid, I had to take a step back and consider the field of local government as a whole and consider why local government leaders do what they do.
Local governance is a public service, first and foremost. It is a profession and a position that is not in the business of making money, but making a difference. Developing, planning and financing a city are never done solely for the sake of profit. There is a constant cycle of reinvesting and redeveloping the resources, property and capital of the community. Any undergraduate pursuing any internship in any government solely for the promise of money, without regard for the education, the experience the will receive and the change they will make is in the wrong industry altogether.
I know that when I have searched for undergraduate internships outside the state of Indiana, I almost always have to refuse positions that I know I qualify for simply because without any pay, I cannot move to a new city for a summer and live. It is a difficult truth that sometimes the only way to find good internships are by finding ones that are in cities where you can live with family or friends. The benefits of exposure, experience and education far outweigh the absence of compensation.
With all of this being said, if a city has the capacity to compensate an undergraduate intern, this should be done. If nothing else, to convey that local government management is a fulfilling career filled with promise and provision for those who pursue it.
My search for the perfect internship continues. When I find it, paid or unpaid, I will pursue the field I have chosen with the passion, ingenuity and freshness that only undergraduates in local government can bring, and I remain optimistic for this new year.