By Steve Spina, City Manager, Zephyrhills
Internships, mentoring programs and classroom projects provide valuable learning experiences for students participating in them, but bring real and substantial benefits to the local governments investing in them and working with these students. The City of Zephyrhills has partnered with the University of South Florida Master of Administration (MPA) program for more than 10 years, and began an internship program with the Master of Urban Planning department (MURP) since 2016.
These programs have proved to be very successful – to both parties. Since 2003, students in the Research Methods classes have conducted annual citizen satisfaction surveys for the City of Zephyrhills. In 2017, students conducted an employee satisfaction survey. Both are valuable tools that allow us to interact with our residents and employees and provide students with real world experience in drafting survey documents, working with staff members and making presentations to City Council.
The internship program has brought us even more rewards. Our first intern, Kevie Defranc, has improved our GIS mapping capabilities and through his map updates discovered a number of properties annexed into the city were not added to city tax rolls. Perhaps the strongest testament to his acumen in working with city staff was our desire to keep him on board. In August, his internship with the Planning Department ended, and we created a spot for him in the Utilities Department to help with their mapping needs. In March 2018, Kevie was hired full time in the Planning Department. Jensen Hackett is our second intern, also in Planning. Specializing in transportation planning, Jensen helped negotiate the U.S. 301 one-way pair design through downtown Zephyrhills. He too is staying on longer, moving from Planning to the municipal airport to explore transportation opinions.
For Zephyrhills, the rewards of partnering with the School of Public Affairs at USF greatly outweigh any negatives. Sometimes I wonder who is benefiting more – the local government or the student. In my experience, it has been win-win. I strongly urge other managers and planners to look at the benefits of working with the Bay area’s premier university and with tomorrow’s leaders and planners.