Lack of funding hits paid internships in Johnson County


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Funding issues are making paid student internships a scarcity in Johnson County, but county officials say interest in unpaid internships is on the rise.

Johnson County Planning and Zoning administrator Rick Dvorak said that while students do paid internships for the Johnson County government, the need for paid or unpaid positions varies depending on what funding the projects need.

"In the last couple of years, we've wanted to see students do unpaid internships," he said. "Our funds are kind of limited, so kids are looking to get other options."

UI sophomore Drew Lakin was selected by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors to intern at the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee in December. Lakin is the 25th intern to be involved with Johnson County government since 2010, according to county records. Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said members are excited to include him.

"As a former UI student senator, I know firsthand the importance of community involvement," Neuzil said. "Having a U of I student on [the committee] will provide all of us a new perspective and will fill a void and younger voice that has been missing for years."

Dvorak said he would like to recruit more students for future projects, such as researching the cost of development for rural areas. However, he expressed caution about hiring additional students because of the uncertainty of future projects.

"It's hard to say because it depends on the issue," he said. "It's something we would consider."

Officials from other counties said they've seen growing student interest in internships, likely because of colleges pushing internships as résumé builders.

"There's more [students] this year than in the past," Woodbury County Board of Supervisors head Marc Monson said. "I have a suspicion it's a part of the programs in the colleges … they're asking students to be more involved."

Five students from Briar Cliff College have interned for Woodbury County officials in 2011, Monson said, an increase over previous years.

UI Community-Based Learning Program coordinator Mary Matthew Wilson said the Career Center sees three to four students looking for community internships per week. Volunteer internships are becoming more popular, she said, partially because of the UI stressing the "Iowa Challenge" — a program that began last semester and emphasizes service work.

"I think having a volunteer [experience] on your transcript gives you a more competitive edge," Matthew Wilson said. "In a way, that's better for students, and it's better for the employer or the supervisor."

Career advisers at the Pomerantz Center work to develop internships with University Heights' community-relations committee, covering fields such as event planning, recycling initiatives, and web development.

Matthew Wilson said she expects the number of UI student volunteers to continue to rise because of the perceived benefits.

"Research shows the more involved students are involved, the more they stay in school," she said. "It benefits the student, it benefits the community, it benefits the school."

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