SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Wittenberg Professor of Political Science Rob Baker hasn’t taken time for a true vacation in the summer of 2005. That can wait.
Just days after returning from a faculty trip to China, Baker met 11 Wittenberg students on May 30 in Meredith, N.H., for the start of a unique, nine-week educational opportunity. The student interns are gaining real-world experience in a one-of-a-kind Local Government Management Internship (LGMI) program through a university partnership with International City/County Management Association (ICMA), a prestigious worldwide organization dedicated to the professional management of local government.
The program places Wittenberg students alongside community leaders in Meredith, a community of nearly 6,400 residents in the central part of the state next to Lake Winnipesauke, a popular summer tourist destination. Students not only observe local government officials at work, but they work side-by-side with the professionals themselves as they solve problems, analyze community needs and create budgets. Each intern is given at least one project to complete by the end of the program.
“A problem in many internship situations is that students are plunked down in an organization without much guidance, and without much to do, so they feel irrelevent and unnecessary,” said Baker, a former city administrator. “I conceived of a program where students would be assigned meaningful projects that would make a difference to local governments. The students would essentially become part of the management staff, and a professor would be present in the workplace to help troubleshoot and guide the independent work required of the students.”
A seminar class is also part of the program. The internship is designed to “help the students meld more effectively their practical internship experiences with the theoretical material assigned in the class,” Baker said.
This is the fourth summer for the LGMI program, which involves oversight by Baker for half of the nine weeks and Professor of Economics Jeff Ankrom for the other half. Nearly 60 Wittenberg students have participated in the program, with the 11 students in 2005 gaining a slightly different experience than their predecessors.
“This is a unique way of melding the theoretical with the practical, and for students to answer the question, ‘Yes, that sounds interesting in theory, but how does it play out in practice?’” Baker said. “In class we are able to take what the students are learning and experiencing in the field and process it through the lens of theory to make the lessons much more meaningful based on real-world examples drawn from their interactions with members of the local government staff, community leaders and citizens.”
After successfully launching the program in 1994 with 13 Wittenberg students in Grand Island, Neb., Baker took 15 Wittenberg students to Fernandina Beach, Fla., in 1997 and nine students to Grand Island in 2000. The internships, primarily coordinated by Baker through contacts he already had, were enhanced when Ankrom came aboard in 2000, bringing his considerable expertise in the area of public finance to the program.
In recent years, however, Baker’s efforts to coordinate more internships, which are unpaid but include housing allowances for the students, in new locations were unsuccessful for a variety of reasons. That led to a brainstorm and a breakthrough.
“I couldn’t believe, given my own experience in city management and our highly successful efforts previously, that other local governments weren’t knocking down our doors to get the kind of help on projects that several students at once could provide,” Baker said. “Then I had an idea that there ought to be a competitive process in which local governments would ‘compete’ to be ‘awarded’ a program.”
Enter the ICMA, which develops initiatives to get more students interested in local government management. Baker, with help from Ankrom and Springfield City Manager Matt Kridler, approached the association about serving as a sponsor to publicize the program and to facilitate local government applications.
Last summer, the ICMA signed on, and seven local governments showed interest, with Meredith gaining the first opportunity under the new partnership. Baker said he expects even more interest next year, based upon feedback from the Meredith partnership thus far and interest generated by ICMA promotional efforts.
“The varied projects the interns are working on will not only benefit our community, but I hope they will be models for other communities in the state,” Meredith Town Manager Carol Granfield said in an ICMA Web site article. “Our initially skeptical department heads have already witnessed the benefits and are seeking to have interns involved with more projects. The blend of the management team’s experience with the eagerness, talent and skills of the interns is most refreshing.”
Wittenberg students participating in the 2005 LGMI program include Margret Zmrazek of Medina, Ohio, Ryan Deutschendorf of Northville, Mich., Mike Judge of West Bloomfield, Mich., and Michael Blum of New Albany, Ind., all class of 2007; Sarah Morgan of Willoughby, Ohio, Josh Mishkin of Baltimore, Md., Christina Vickers of Cincinnati, Ohio, Jeff Auble of Noblesville, Ind., and Chase Cordial of Columbus, Ohio, all class of 2006; and Aaron Schmalzle of Nairobi, Kenya, and Peter Gillette of Mentor, Ohio, both class of 2005.
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