Successful Local Gov Internships Part 2: The Virtual Intern Experience

Posted on October 26, 2020

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This is the second in a three-part series about designing successful local government internships. This series is authored by Pat Madej (LinkedIn | Twitter) and Molly Gaskin (Email | Twitter), and is presented in conjunction with his recent GovLove podcast episode on local government internships.

I was all geared up to start my internship mid-March right as the budget cycle was ramping up for North Carolina, and would have the unique opportunity to come along for the most exciting part of the year in the City of Durham’s Budget and Management Services office. Then of course, COVID-19 changed that, and like everyone else we pivoted into our new world of work. Thankfully, I had excellent supervisors who worked to make sure I was still able to get a great local government experience. 

Working for the City of Durham was my first experience in local government and I loved it. I had been to local council meetings before, but I found them so much more interesting with the staff perspective. I asked my supervisors lots of questions, trying to take in as much as I could about the way things worked, both formally and informally. I was especially excited to learn about the dynamics between all of the different players in the city. I have heard that some things are best learned through experience countless times, and found that to be true here. Witnessing the things I had spent the past year of my MPA program learning about helped me to better understand what it means to take theory to practice. 

The virtual internship experience was certainly different than what I expected, and it was more project-based than it may have been otherwise. This gave me the opportunity to work on a variety of projects. My main project, which will be discussed in the third part of our blog series, focused on the budget request form and how departments responded to a few sections of the form. I also learned about sales tax sharing between the city and county and worked with historic sales tax data, drafted a revenue manual framework, and contributed to the budget book. 

Part of having a mostly project-based virtual internship is that in order to get exposure to certain things, you’re probably going to have to ask lots of questions. Through the budget request project, I was able to dig through the performance measurement system Durham uses. To learn more, I took the opportunity to talk with two of the strategy and performance members of the budget department. I also took the opportunity to talk about the comprehensive planning process with some planners to learn about their resident engagement strategies and the considerations they hoped to incorporate in making Durham’s next comprehensive plan. 

Ultimately, the internship was a great experience and left me with some really valuable things to bring into my second year of the MPA program and into my working future—a combination of deliverables and a new understanding of the “practice” side of things. I am so thankful for my supervisors for powering through the uncertainty of the spring to provide me with the experience they did and I hope other local governments will keep their internships up and running during this time too. 

Molly Gaskin is a second-year Master of Public Administration candidate at the UNC School of Government and research assistant for the ncIMPACT Initiative.You can connect with her on Twitter @themollophone.


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