College to County in the midst of new horizons
Created on 08/27/2020
The College to County (C2C) Mentorship Program was established in 2010, and has been a crucial part of the careers and the professional development of over 100 undergraduate students so far, many from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented communities. It includes a paid internship, mentorship opportunities, and training aimed at equipping students with the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to advance their careers, and expose them to public service work. It is now included in the County’s Workforce Equity Strategic Plan (WESP) as a strategy to create school-to-work pipelines from racially and economically disadvantaged communities.
This year, C2C welcomed 30 students from a wide range of universities. These people dedicated their time to help County departments foster new ideas and fresh perspectives in distinct ways.
COVID-19 forced many departments to transition their work primarily online and follow the safety recommendations from Public Health. “I cannot overstate how lucky I am to have a paid internship during times like these. Public service is and will always be my passion, and the County has done an amazing job of making sure that I have everything I need to do the work and gain valuable experience that will serve me well down the road. I definitely want to return to the County and keep doing this kind of important work,” says LaShawn McCarty, Sex Trafficking Collaborative Intern with The Department of Community Justice (DCJ)
For many, the internship gives young professionals the ability to foster new skills. Kyla Mertz, working with the Aging and Disability Veteran Services (ADVSD), says being part of the College to County program has given her the opportunity to discover unimaginable skillsets, preparing her for expanded possibilities in the future. “This experience has been very welcoming in terms of being comfortable in learning throughout this internship and getting connections in the county. I’m also learning a new skill set that I didn’t think I would get to do. For instance, I thought I would be calling and meeting older adults with their technological needs, instead I am learning to create and edit instructional videos.”
C2C has opened the doors of possibilities for the near future of many who are currently interning. “Multnomah County cares about its community and the people who work for it. It has taught me that to work in public service we must care and inform ourselves about the communities we serve. This has been the best internship experience I've had. The program is invaluable and has helped shape my future in a major way.” Vlad Salas Moreno, who interned with the Department of County Management (DCM), which oversees administrative functions for the whole County, including Payroll, Central Human Resources and Organizational Learning.
Red Burkett, who is also interning with DCM, adds, “My experience at the County equipped me for a future career in public service by exposing me to the government environment, professional etiquette, and giving me practical tools and insights into the city/county relationship locally.”
Aaliyah Manylath, who works for the Department of County Human Services (DCHS) brings up, “My experience at the county has equipped me for a future career in general by emphasizing the idea of connecting and networking. Before starting C2C, I was extremely timid and insecure about reaching out to people, especially if they are of higher authority. However, I have realized that I am responsible for what I get out of the internship; therefore, I am taking and creating opportunities to meet new people within the county. This is a new way to build a network in this upcoming and current generation. Also, I am getting a better idea of behind the scenes tasks that are done on a daily basis.”
Workplace in the virtual world
At a time where things may feel uncertain, interns are learning to adapt to new environments and navigate the professional world in a new setting. Edman Wong, who works for Organizational Learning in DCM says, “I think a typical day in the time of COVID requires that I be more disciplined because of the lack of structure. It also asks me to be more adaptive because this is a new experience not only for me but for everybody in the world. So just knowing that I have no control over the situation and making the best out of the current circumstances has been a good mindset that I've been approaching every day with.”
Having to navigate more of the virtual world has come with its challenges, Juan Pablo Perez-Garifas, who is interning with the Department of County Assets (DCA) in Facilities Management describes, “I have been working some days from home and others in the field, but I think the most challenging is not having access to my peers as easily as I would if we were all in the office. Communicating can be difficult through the virtual meetings because it is sometimes difficult to hear what people are saying. Meeting virtually is just obviously not as efficient as it would be to meet in person.”
Andreas Sandino, who is a DCM intern at the Assessor's office adds, “I learned a lot about how to efficiently communicate with staff and other individuals virtually. This is our new reality, so that was very helpful! Paying attention virtually was challenging at first, but I learned ways to change my surroundings in which I learned and participated in discussions.”
One of the greater challenges for interns is the lack of accessibility, unable to be in the spaces the work normally requires. Adji Ostin who works for DCJ’s Juvenile Services Division has to report to the Juvenile Complex and is also teleworking. “The most challenging part is not having direct access to the resources that are available in the building that help in doing your job, including your colleagues.” Despite any difficulties Adji mentions, “While working at the county, I’ve gained a lot of experience working with at risk youth by accompanying juvenile court counselors on home visits and meetings in addition to the training I’m receiving on the family functional probation model. I feel more confident in my ability to work with youth and families in a future career in public service.” She adds that she looks for a future in which more funding and recruitment for the College to County program is supported since students of color are often not aware of opportunities like these.
The College to County internships have also required current interns, just like full time employees, to intentionally manage and balance their work and personal lives more than before. Using various platforms of communication, interns are able to attend regular professional development training and maintain constant communication with their individual liaisons. Pamela Domingo, who works for DART explains, “Throughout this experience, I learned how to effectively communicate with both the public and fellow employees. I also realized the importance of being thoughtful, intentional, and thinking critically with every project you do as a public servant. It's always good to anticipate the impact and possible harm you can have on communities and make solid decisions with that in mind.”
Interns look toward the future
While employees of public organizations are navigating the present times, this year's interns have managed to carry out important work despite the challenges that working from home may present. Kadasha Harris, a DCA intern, is working closely with her department’s Equity Manager, and helped create a toolkit and set of implementation recommendations reviewing the professional and respectful workplace policies. She says about a complex concept like leading with race, “We must start somewhere.” She adds that her experience at the County has allowed her to adopt an important concept for public service work -- Human Centered Design. “Being able to ask and receive feedback from the people they serve, being able to cater to their needs, meeting people where they are, and letting the knowledge of what people need guide the decisions.”
Conversations centered around equity and race are taking place and showing up across departments, something interns are actively partaking in during their time at Multnomah County. “My experience at the county has been challenging me to see things through an equity lens. We all come from different experiences that shape our values and beliefs.” says Gracelynn Enlett, interning at the Library’s Makerspace in Rockwood.
Despite the changes, interns carry out their work and are encouraged and inspired to return and serve the Multnomah County community in the future. Kadasha Harris mentions that she would like to see the C2C program expand beyond college programs in the future, to reach young people in the community who are ready or interested in public service.
“Multnomah County believes in equity, and dedicates the programs and resources to back it up,” states LaShawn McCarthy. Gracelynn Enlet, reflects on the overall purpose of the program when she mentions, “I see C2C as an opportunity for the County to keep the communities they are serving engaged.”
Being an intern at Multnomah County, through College to County creates spaces where young individuals can grow and develop professionally, unlocking their potential for unimaginable futures. Breaking cycles, stigmas, and educational opportunities is something that is taking place in the Multnomah County community, through College to County, and is essentially working for a better future.
About the author
Nancy Garcia has interned with the Department of Community Justice through the College to County program two summers in a row. She is pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice at Warner Pacific University. During her time with DCJ, she contributed to internal communication, strategic planning, and change management initiatives.