Mayor’s executive interns making a difference in Miami-Dade County

When FIU senior William Gomez and his team took a close look at Miami-Dade County’s IT help desk, they quickly saw how they could save taxpayer dollars.

By centralizing the system and offering more self-service options, the team estimated they could reduce the cost of some services from $30-$300 to as low as $10-$20.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said those are exactly the kinds of recommendations he wants to hear from students who participate in the Miami-Dade County Executive Internship Program, a partnership with FIU now in its third year.

Miami-Dade County Internships

FIU students join Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and FIU Vice President for Engagement Irma Becerra-Fernandez for graduation from the Mayor’s Executive Internship program.

“That is our strategy,’’ Gimenez said at the program graduation last week. “You get something from us – a behind-the-scenes look at how government works – and we get something from you – a work product that we can hopefully put into place in Miami-Dade County.’’

Another potential result for students who participate – fulltime positions with Miami-Dade County when they graduate.

Of the more than 100 students who have completed the program, at least 11 have been hired by the county, said Lee-Ann Dizon, who oversees the program for the county’s human resources department.

“In previous semesters, we’ve had as many as 15 to 20 percent of the students get hired,’’ Dizon said. “These are students who are chosen because they have all the qualities the county is looking for. If we could keep them all, we would.”

Launched by Gimenez and FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg in 2012, the 15-week program is open to juniors, seniors and graduate students with a grade point average of at least 3.0. Applications are now being accepted for the Fall 2014 semester.

Students who are accepted into the program are assigned to specific county departments, working 20-25 hours a week under the supervision of a department director. The interns have weekly meetings with the mayor, deputy mayors or top department directors.

“This is an opportunity that will not only make you marketable, but research shows that students with internships are more likely to have higher GPAs and graduate on time,’’ said Vice President for Engagement Irma Becerra-Fernandez, who oversees the program for FIU’s Office of Engagement, along with the Career Services office.

“You bring fresh, new ideas to complex problems and provide solutions,’’ Becerra-Fernandez said. “And employers have the opportunity to ‘test drive’ students and determine whether they meet the company or organization culture.’’

Gomez, the IT major whose team analyzed the county’s help desk, said his work experience with the county brought together all the principles he learned in the classroom.

“Some people say life teaches you so much more than the classroom, but I don’t agree with that,’’ he said. “I think they complement each other and that’s what this internship did for all of us.’’

Xu Huizhong, who was assigned to look for waste in the county’s water and sewer department, said promoting awareness of conservation efforts is as important as retrofitting infrastructure and using environmentally friendly products.

FIU student Xu Huizhong dressed up as D-Rop, a water conservation mascot to educate preschoolers on water conservation.

FIU student Xu Huizhong dressed up as D-Rop, a water conservation mascot, to educate preschoolers on water conservation.

Through an elaborate water audit, his team made recommendations that could reduce county water consumption by 30 to 40 percent. They also developed an idea for an app that would help the county better manage maintenance of its water and sewer infrastructure.

“But if people don’t care about it, you lose a lot of potential to conserve,’’ said Huizhong, who dressed up as “D-Rop,” a water conservation mascot, to bring the message of conservation to pre-kindergarten classes and day care centers. “Through marketing campaigns and community awareness, you can slowly change people’s behavior.’’

The mayor’s internship program has been so successful that FIU is now using it as a model for future government internship programs, said Becerra-Fernandez.  The university recently signed an agreement with the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, which has hired four FIU graduates.

“There is no more important job than serving your community and government work gives you the opportunity to do that,’’ she said.  “This is such a great experience, I wish I was a student all over again so I could go through it.’’

For more information on the mayor’s Executive Internship Program, visit the program overview here. The deadline to apply is July 20, 2014. Application instructions may be found here.

To learn more about internships or search for internships online, visit the Office of Engagement’s internship portal.

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