UW-Parkside Students Explore Kenosha Through Civic Internship Program
Kenosha, Wis.- Do you know where to go to register your Vietnamese Potbelly Pig if you live in the City of Kenosha? Thanks to his experience in the Civic Internship Program, University of Wisconsin-Parkside student Grant Pitts now knows the answer to that question. Pitts is a sociology major at UW-Parkside and interned with the City of Kenosha Elections department.
During the Fall 2023 semester, UW-Parkside’s Community & Business Engagement Office launched the Civic Internship Program in partnership with the City of Kenosha and Kenosha County. Through this program, three UW-Parkside students had the opportunity to learn about and gain experience working in various departments of local government while earning academic credit.
Michelle Nelson, a City Clerk in Kenosha, worked with Pitts during his internship. Pitts interned during the election-cycle preparation period that only occurs every two years. Nelson claimed that it was mutually beneficial for Pitts to have this experience and for the department to have extra help. “Through this experience, I believe Grant learned the depth of organization and preparation that elections staff complete to ensure election cycles run efficiently and accurately,” Nelson stated.
As part of the program, the students also enrolled in Community Based Learning 494 Civic Internship taught by Amy Garrigan, UW-Parkside’s Community & Business Engagement Program Manager. Garrigan was pleased to be able to facilitate this course and provide this unique experience for students. The course helped the students understand the role and functions of city and county government while also allowing them to reflect on their professional and personal learning through their internship.
The interns spent the majority of their internship hours in a dedicated role in a specific department. However, they were also given unique experiences as part of the program to expand their understanding of the civic role of local government. Shannon Kinney got to go on a ride-along with the Kenosha County Sheriff Department and meet the County Executive. Pitts and Luiza Palka had the opportunity to meet the Mayor of Kenosha and visit the City of Kenosha Fire Department.
This opportunity represented an important learning experience for all three students. Kinney, a Business Management major with a Human Resource Management concentration interned with the Kenosha County Human Resources department. “I've been able to ask questions, get behind the scenes, and see how local government works together to make changes in Kenosha County to benefit all,” she said.
“From meeting the County Executive to touring all the facilities, I have been able to witness and understand the people and processes that make this county what it is,” Kinney continued. She became familiar with common practices and processes such as new employment files, terminations, and evaluations and especially enjoyed building new relationships and being mentored by experienced professionals.
Palka is majoring in geography and gained real-world experience with the City of Kenosha Geographic Information System Department. Palka was able to put what she has learned into practice during the internship. “It sounded like a great opportunity to see if a GIS position was a good fit for me in the future, while also receiving credit for classes and getting paid hourly,” she explained. Palka’s responsibilities included supporting the GIS Specialist with tasks including data entry and formatting maps for various city departments.
Palka’s favorite part of the experience was relationship building and being mentored by people with relevant experience. She specifically cites her supervisor, Emma Reed, as a great source of knowledge and praises her for tailoring tasks specifically to Palka’s professional interests. “She knew I was interested in using spatial analysis for libraries and archives, so my first project was adding the old street names of Kenosha to a GIS database, working off of a map and notes from 1926. It's still one of my favorite projects I've ever done,” Palka recounted.
Although the value of the experience for the students was immense, the organizations that they interned with also benefitted greatly. Kelsey Hubeler, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Coordinator for Kenosha County, says that the program allowed them to review their processes from a different perspective. “Having a student intern is a great opportunity to explore opportunities for improvements or just alternate ways to complete tasks. Having fresh eyes that are eager to learn and share their experiences as well, ensures that we are staying connected to the incoming workforce,” Hubeler said.
Hubeler says that the opportunity to learn about multiple facets of local government was a valuable experience for the students. “This year our student intern was exposed to Kenosha County Government from not only an HR perspective but also connected with managers and directors as well. Seeing the public service organizational side and then also relating it to their community experience was valuable,” she explained.
To learn more about this program and UW-Parkside’s Community & Business Engagement Office, please visit https://www.uwp.edu/connect/communityengagement/communityandbusinessengagement/