The College–Town Internship Connection
February 14, 2020
When I find business major Colton Hunter ’20 at the Sheraton Austin Georgetown Hotel and Conference Center, where he is working at the Texas Downtown Conference, he is busy. Hunter is learning about the “other-duties-as-assigned” aspect of all jobs: he is stuffing and handing out welcome bags to conference attendees, problem-solving A/V technical difficulties, giving directions to attendees, and spending time tabling and representing the City of Georgetown. It was all part of his internship this past fall semester with the Georgetown Economic Development office, in which he helped market, plan, and implement a conference for officials from city governments across the state to talk about downtown and small-business development. Hunter continued the tradition of Southwestern students interning with the City of Georgetown: in the past year and a half, SU students have interned in not only Economic Development but also the departments of City Planning, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Parks and Recreation, and Public Works.
Southwestern students interning with the City of Georgetown provides a mutually beneficial relationship, giving students an experiential-learning opportunity while strengthening the connection between the University and its surrounding city. Along with hosting SU interns, employees from the City of Georgetown have frequented campus for multiple career-related events, helping students learn about and explore the variety of career opportunities and fields that may exist in a government setting. “The most unexpected part of the internship has been all the people I have been able to meet in Georgetown,” says Hunter about his experience. “The mayor’s office is in the same building, and it’s amazing that he will take time out of his day to talk to me. The fact that I go to Southwestern is enough for people in the Georgetown community to take an interest in me and care about my success.”
“The fact that I go to Southwestern is enough for people in the Georgetown community to take an interest in me and care about my success.”
Fellow business major Courtney King ’20 interned in spring 2019 with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and echoes Hunter’s sentiments: “The [internship] gave me the opportunity to sit in citywide meetings to discuss the bettering of the City of Georgetown as a whole,” she recalls. “I got to provide my opinion from a student perspective on how I vision Georgetown.” In her internship, King got to experience the day-of coordination of the Red Poppy Festival and assist with vendors who participated. “I made so many connections and expanded my personal development in planning at the city level,” she says.
For the City of Georgetown, having interns gives them fresh eyes on their work as well as an opportunity for workforce development. “Having an intern for the Economic Development Department and Main Street Program provides value by offering a fresh perspective on the work we do. Oftentimes we see projects over and over and don’t notice things that someone just coming into the field will notice and question. I really love the creativity and ideas that come from working with students during an internship,” says Downtown Development Manager Kim McAuliffe. Community Services Director Jackson Daly adds that along with helping students gain skills, it gives the City a chance at an employee pipeline. “It provides an opportunity for the City to give new and emerging professionals a chance to gain experience without the prerequisite experience typically needed for new professionals,” he comments. “There are several folks at the City who have proven to be a great match for our organization that started out as interns.”
In Hunter’s internship, he got to see how the city intersects with local businesses and helps them succeed. “My favorite part has been the ability to meet and form relationships with small-business owners. I like meeting new people and understanding their needs and seeing how I can help,” he says. “I didn’t realize how integrated the city government can be in what residents are doing. When I went to events, I could see how the business owners knew and responded to my boss [McAuliffe].”
Southwestern coursework and programming emphasize the value and importance of civic engagement, and the opportunity to work in city hall for a semester through internships can help foster a better understanding of what that concept looks like in practice. “For the City, interns provide a great opportunity to foster a closer connection with a key instructional partner. The more we work together and learn about each other’s work, the better we’ll be able to leverage opportunities and address future challenges,” says Daly. McAuliffe adds, “The City wants to continue to have a strong relationship with Southwestern, and with an established internship program, we can hopefully provide a mutually beneficial experience for both our staff and students looking for real-world experience.”
Regardless of the professional path that Hunter decides to take, that increased knowledge of what civic engagement looks like was his biggest takeaway: “No matter what I’m doing and wherever I go, I’ll have a better understanding of the role city government plays in local businesses. I’ll know that as a citizen, I can give input and that there are ways to be involved.”