Two Perspectives on Local Government Management Internship Programs

By Baker, Rob; Granfield, Carol | Public Management, January-February 2006 | Go to article overview

Two Perspectives on Local Government Management Internship Programs


Baker, Rob, Granfield, Carol, Public Management


Helping Prepare the Next Generation

In 1993, this author had a brainstorm while trying to work out a local government summer internship for one of my students in her hometown of Muscatine, Iowa. Having a background in small-town administration, I am aware of the fact that local governments have projects that need attention but a lack of resources prevents their completion.

Undergraduate students are clamoring for meaningful internship experiences that will enhance their understanding of the real world of local government management and at the same time, help them make important decisions about their futures. These two facts, in addition to my preference for experiential learning options, helped me in developing an integrated internship program for students interested in management.

My experiences taught me that positive internships had to meet the needs of three key stakeholders: 1) the local government host, 2) the student intern, and 3) the academic institution.

GENESIS OF THE PROGRAM

To meet these specific needs I devised a program that consists of an internship combined with an academic seminar that is portable and conducted under the auspices of any local government jurisdiction. Students would be placed as interns in local government departments for a period of nine weeks and given one or more projects to complete by the end of the program.

They also would take a class twice a week and attend selected local government meetings. Aside from teaching the seminar, my role would be one of daily mentor and administrator at the work site for students to consult on their projects, to troubleshoot any issues regarding supervision, and to help facilitate the independent work that would be required for the students to complete their projects.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Since the internships would be unpaid and students would be paying tuition, it seemed the only way this would be financially feasible was if the host local government provided the housing and utilities. Given these basic parameters, I proposed the idea to a colleague who at the time was city administrator of Grand Island, Nebraska.

He was enthusiastic, and we began planning how to pilot the program the following summer. In 1994, 13 students participated in the initial program, which proved to be a great success. It was followed by two more iterations--Fernandina Beach, Florida, in 1997, and Grand Island, in 2000--and numerous projects were completed for the host local governments. A list of projects can be found on the Web site at www.localintern.org.

In an effort to expand the program to new localities, I worked to get commitments from potential hosts that had expressed an interest in it, only to have them drop out during the planning stages for various reasons. I was frustrated because I knew the value of the tremendous work students were accomplishing for the communities that had initially agreed to participate.

The students were uniformly energized, and the host governments were able to obtain--essentially for free--the full-time services of eager college students who were supervised by university staff with extensive local government experience. The only cost to the government was housing, and they were at liberty to be creative to work out agreeable arrangements.

It was at this point that I thought the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) could be a clearinghouse for highlighting the benefits of the program, and it seemed that ICMA might view this as a way to promote the local government management profession to undergraduates.

As it turns out, the Association had been focusing intently on what it viewed as a "quiet crisis" of a graying profession. It was launching new initiatives to try to offset trends that seemed to suggest a potentially serious lack of new managers coming into the profession to fill pending retirements. …

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