City Searching for Interns: New program hoped to boost student retention
Dec. 15, 2011 (by Will Shoemaker, "Gunnison Country Times") -- What began as a part-time lifeguard gig for Gunnison’s Cory Vander Veen turned into a topic of study.
The former Western State College of Colorado (WSC) student pursued an internship opportunity that offered experience in event planning and day-to-day operations of the community pool for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
That experience, in turn, helped Vander Veen land the aquatics manager position at the community pool earlier this year, upon his graduation from WSC.
“It’s kind of a Cinderella story,” said Parks and Rec Director Dan Ampietro.
Parks and Rec has long hosted interns from Western, said Ampietro. Some of them, like Vander Veen, have gone on to land full-time gigs with the department.
Now, city leaders are looking to expand internship opportunities to many departments through a competitive internship program set to launch this coming semester. Next year’s city budget includes $10,000, aimed at compensating students for their work.
The concept was borne out of budget discussions for whether the city should continue to pay for high school counselor visits to Western’s campus — a program that the city has contributed funding to since 2002 and is viewed as a recruitment tool for the college.
“Council thought that perhaps there was a better use of that money in retaining the students that are already here,” explained Finance Director Wendy Hanson.
While funding for the counselor visits will continue next year, City Manager Ken Coleman pitched the idea to council of funding the internship program as well.
It was welcomed by council, and has since received a warm welcome from Western’s student government association.
“There was a high degree of excitement,” Coleman said of his recent announcement to student leaders. “I’ve been to their meetings before and never received an applause.”
In recent weeks, Pam Cunningham, the city’s planning technician, took the lead in coordinating the internship program between department heads and the college.
“It’s got to be something that is academically rigorous enough for the student to be able to earn credit,” Cunningham explained.
Each of the city’s department heads came up with a list of projects that they’d like to see accomplished. That was refined to a list of 12 positions.
Cunningham worked with college leaders in identifying disciplines that had internship opportunities — linking them to the city’s already identified positions.
The city has hosted internships in the past, but the new program marks more of a coordinated effort between the college and city, she said.
City leaders plan to pay $350 per credit hour up to three credit hours ($1,050 maximum), upon successful completion of a project. In comparison, “in-state” students at WSC are charged $246.93 per credit hour.
Western’s Career Services coordinator Mariah Green has sought to spread word of the internships across campus.
She noted that paid internships are hard to come by. “I have no doubt that students will be interested for that reason,” said Green.
The way it will work
Students will develop a task-specific proposal for an internship with their academic advisor. The application will then be submitted to the city (deadline of Jan. 6). City management staff will then go through all the applications to decide which are best.
The city anticipates 10 internships per year, though the exact number will vary depending upon credit hours assigned to the selected projects. A dozen specific projects have been identified by city leaders.
The internships will be considered as laboratory courses. For a three credit internship, students will be expected to spend 90 hours on the specified project.
City leaders believe that the opportunities will also give students a glance at careers available through local government.
That has certainly been the case for Parks and Rec.
“It was an excellent opportunity to get a well-rounded education of parks and rec (for a local government),” Director Ampietro said of past interns. “It certainly lends itself well to the college’s recreation program overall.”
Vander Veen agreed.
“I got to make it what I wanted,” he said.
That included planning an event that was launched this year — the city’s Friday Night Fright, which included a host of Halloween-related activities for kids at the pool.
“Overall, it was awesome, how much I learned,” said Vander Veen.
Story by Will Shoemaker, editor, and posted with permission from the "