Summer internships show students how government works
High school and college students looking for summer internships need look no further than their local government. Cities and counties nationwide offer internship hunters a range of experiences from exploring the arts to learning more about how local governments work.
The goals of the internship programs, most of which are unpaid, are to introduce young people to public sector careers, build their skills for future success, and help them to view their own local government in a more positive light.
For a fifth year, Yolo County, Calif., is offering eight-week, unpaid internships to high school students. Interns are assigned to county departments, must volunteer five hours a week, and participate in activities that teach them about their county government and the services it provides.
About 85 young people have participated so far. Applicants have never been in short supply, says Jenny Brown, program facilitator. “I have parents that email me as early as January and February wanting to know how their kids can apply,” Brown says.
Another example is the Georgia Counties Internship Program that matches undergraduate and graduate college students with internship opportunities throughout the state. More than 165 students representing a variety of colleges have participated in the program since its inception in 2010.
Philadelphia employs 100 high school and 50 college interns every year as part of Mayor Michael Nutter’s commitment to connect young people with summer opportunities, especially in local government. “Providing summer internships is important and definitely drives some of the workforce goals the mayor has,” says Stephanie Tipton, deputy finance director, who helps oversee the city’s internship programs.
Experts say such programs are an excellent recruitment and marketing tool for local governments facing the tough task of replacing retiring employees and reversing negative public perception about all levels of government. The programs can draw idealistic young people to government work.
“We have to make the case that if you join local government, you can achieve your values,” says Frank Benest, a former Palo Alto, Calif., city manager who has written extensively about the retirement wave and next generation programs. Touting the slogan, “You can make a difference in your own backyard,” the Silicon Valley Next Generation Committee Benest heads has helped place 375 college students with local governments in California’s Santa Clara and San Mateo counties through its Regional Internship Program, now in its fifth year.
The committee also has created a job bank for employment with local government, including internships, as well as a guide to local government careers. The committee’s efforts earned kudos last year from the Washington-based Center for State and Local Government Excellence.
“Internships are absolutely critical, whether they are paid or unpaid,” Benest says. “They are a key way of interesting young people in a local government career.”
Emma Shoaf has a 4-H internship this summer with the Bartholomew County, Ohio, Extension Office. The 21-year-old grew up on an Indiana farm and wants to be a farmer after completing her agriculture and business studies at Utah State University.
Her internship already has her thinking more deeply about how a local government career could be a path to pursue her passion for helping farmers. “I thought about it before, but this internship is going to give me a better idea of what I can do and other options,” Shoaf says.
S.A. Reid is an Atlanta-based freelance writer.