Internship program opens a door for opportunity

Intern DiMitri Bowie and Marion City Administrator Roger Holter review a living document on a capital improvement project as part of Bowie’s experience with Marion city government this summer. “The internship program has been a real eye-opener,” Bowie said. “It takes so many things to run this city.”
Intern DiMitri Bowie and Marion City Administrator Roger Holter review a living document on a capital improvement project as part of Bowie’s experience with Marion city government this summer. “The internship program has been a real eye-opener,” Bowie said. “It takes so many things to run this city.”
The first paid summer intern program was considered a success by Marion City officials and by the Tabor College student who was afforded the opportunity to see how a municipality operates.

City Administrator Roger Holter said this first collaboration has opened addi­­tional avenues allowing Marion to pursue others within the trades, citing Flint Hills Technical College, as one example.

“(This program) has shown a value to our citizens, and we believe that’s exciting for the future,” Holter said, adding these internship programs should be as local as possible, and are the bridge to the future of economic development.

“It helps us to maintain our rural environment, but unfortunately most internships are restricted to large metropolitan areas,”Holter said. “Yet overall, the economy is still 80 percent driven by small business, and the biggest opportunities for a lot of folks coming out of college or technical schools would be the rural market.”

Holter said he and other city officials were thrilled to have this opportunity, and appreciated Tabor’s involvement.

“As a city, we can expand these opportunities moving forward,” he said.

Beneficial

DiMitri Bowie, a senior at Tabor majoring in business management, said he had no clue what it took to run a city prior to his internship.

“I didn’t know it took so much planning years in advance, or how projects could be funded with grants (or by other means),” he said. “It was definitely beneficial.”

As part of the 12-week program, Bowie was asked to develop a capital improvement planning project.

“I talked to each department head and asked them what capital improvement projects they would be looking at in the next five to 10 years,” Bowie said. “It could be anything from replacing a bucket truck in the electric department to replacing playground equipment in one of the parks.”

Whatever a particular department might need in the next five to 10 years would be noted in the project book, Bowie said, and that would serve as a blueprint for the future.

“It is a living document,” he said. “So, even after I am gone, the book will continue on.”

Bowie said his experiences with Holter were valuable, particu­larly when he was discussing the capital improvement planning project with city personnel.

“This experience taught me some better communication skills, because at first, no one knew me so some people were hesitant to tell me things. But, Roger sent me back a couple of times to keep talking to the department heads.”

Bowie said eventually he was able to convey what he needed from them, and in turn, they provided him with the information he needed for the document.

Bowie’s legacy

Holter said the city of Marion has always had a five-year capital improvement plan that would be updated only at budget time.

“Through the process DiMitri is developing, it will be an ongoing living and changing document,” he said.

“Priorities can change, funding can change, but all those needs will still be in one central location to be accessed by the governing body, administration and department heads.

“The city’s first intern, DiMitri Bowie, has the legacy of establishing a capital improvement planning process,” Holter said.

Inclusion

Bowie said in addition to improving his communication skills, he gained confidence in hands-on experience with the capital improvement plan, along with industrial knowledge and inclusion in a variety of talks between Holter and department heads.

“I was involved in most discussions,” he said. “Roger would introduce me first and let whoever was there know I was the city’s intern.”

Bowie said only once was he asked to leave, but otherwise everyone was open to letting him sit in the office while Holter talked with personnel about municipal matters.

“It’s a great way to know the staff and constituents and what their expectations are,” Bowie said.

Added Holter: “In a smaller environment, regardless of whether it’s a business or city, the strength of your organization is built on relationships. In larger organizations, it’s built on structure, and in some even larger companies, there has to be a hierarchy.”

Bowie said he sees himself as someone who “plans.”

“I can’t just jump into something or have things pop up,” he said. “It’s also why I like the idea of having things budgeted—less surprises.”

Management style

Bowie said he liked Holter’s open-door management style.

Holter said it’s not about daily reports because people tend to get more concerned with what the report looks like than the content and customer-service end.

“It’s just my opinion, but an open-door policy is more of a comfortable work environment, and generally it allows me to be better informed than asking for reports,” Holter added.

Holter said leadership still is important.

“Within the county we have very different management styles,” he said. “One organization that I know of, the department heads have a set appointment time every two weeks. They come in and sit down with leadership, and that’s worked successfully for that area.”

Bowie said he believes whatever the organization, be it private business or government, customers need services or benefits delivered to them.

“Managers have to adapt,” he said.

After graduation, Bowie said he wants to go into sports management. But if he were to choose a department within city government, he said it would be economic development.

“I talked with Randy Collett (the city’s economic development director), who said his job involves recruiting people and businesses, visiting college campuses and talking to entrepreneurs.”

Bowie said he also met with Russell Groves, chairman of the Marion County Community Economic Development Corp.

After talking with Collett and Groves, Bowie said he would be interested in economic development because the idea of seeing a city grow, and knowing he helped in that process, would be rewarding.

Shadowing vs. Hands-on

Holter said shadowing is one way of learning in an internship program, but it’s also difficult to retain the information.

“My experience has been that if someone has the opportunity to contri­bute, they are more en­gaged,” Holter said. “This is why our program was designed specifically with a project in mind that pays long-term benefits for the city.”

Bowie identified two capital improvement projects at the city’s baseball fields.

“The ballpark has a concession stand that needs remodeling because the state inspectors said there has to be three sinks rather than only two,” he said.

State regulations dictate that there has to be a sink for soap, one for rinse water and a third sink for sanitation (bleach), he said.

“No longer is it a two-step process,” Bowie said. “Now it’s three steps and will require remodeling.”

For a large-scale project, Bowie said capital improvement funds generally would come from a bond offering, but grants are another funding source.

Holter said funds can also come from low-cost loan programs through state and federal sources, depending on the type of project it is, or a funding stream is from departmental revenues.

Acknowledgements

Bowie said his experience was invaluable.

“The internship program has been a real eye-opener,” he said. “It takes so many things to run this city. And, no way can someone sit back and relax, because there’s always something to be done.”

Holter said the city is fortunate to have this first internship program, thanks to its elected officials.

“The city council voted in April to allow the administration to explore the opportunity of engaging an intern with Tabor College,” Holter said. “DiMitri was able to stay in the community, work as an intern, and still maintain his other job at Dollar General in Hillsboro.”

The internship was based on hours available. For the pilot program, it was for 12 weeks; Bowie’s last day will be Thursday, Aug. 10.