Interns get hands-on experience with city

Published 11:00 am Monday, July 21, 2014

Jasmine Brown is learning there’s a big difference between what the textbooks say and what goes on in the real world.

Anthony Gibson is getting a close look at his chosen field of engineering, Alexis Stevenson is getting a close look at the human element of business, Amanda Guizerix and Waid Barfield are getting their introduction to municipal government, and Julianne Ranis and Mirian Rimmey are getting work experience that will help them get jobs in the future.

These seven are among the 25 high school and college students working in 16 city departments under a summer intern program with the City of Vicksburg. The students began their jobs June 3 and will work through July 30.

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The program was the idea of South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson, who wanted to provide opportunities to the students to find work during the summer and to possibly serve as a recruiting tool to get the students to consider coming to work for the city in the future.

The city has had intern programs in the past, Willis said, “but they didn’t work out because I don’t think they had a good selection process.” He set a different set of criteria to select the students for the program, and visited each of the city’s four high schools, where he talked with the principals about it.

To participate in the internship program, a student has to be a resident of Vicksburg, be at least an incoming high school senior, have at least a 2.5 grade point average and be evaluated by a teacher.

“I created an evaluation form which the teachers filled out, and it was used as a reference,” he said, “I felt the teachers work with the students, and they could give some good insight on who would be good candidates.”

Brown, Gibson, Stevenson, Guizerix and Barfield are college students who are taking advantage of the intern program to either help them in their chosen fields or give them insight into a possible career. Ranis is a recent Vicksburg High School graduate who will attend Ole Miss in the fall majoring in environmental engineering, and Rimmey will be a senior at Warren Central High School.

“I thought it would be a great experience to have before I start my college life, because I figured it would give me a glimpse of what the working world is really like,” said Ranis, who works in Thompson’s Ward 2 office. “I work with Mr. Thompson on projects, and sometimes I work with Ms. (Danita) Reed on public relations. I get to get out of the office and work with people and observe meetings, it’s been a great opportunity.”

“I needed the job experience, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to work for the city,” said Rimmey, who works in the Vicksburg Main Street office.

She said she was surprised by the activity in the office. “I thought I was going to be sitting down making copies, but there’s been a lot of things (to do),” she said. “We’re actually planning events for downtown. I’m learning how to really schedule and plan things. Before I went to work, I wasn’t familiar with Main Street or downtown.”

Gibson, an engineering student at Mississippi State University, is working in the public works office under Public Works Director Garnet Van Norman. He said he requested to be placed at the department.

“I did it for the experience so I could learn,” Gibson said. “I had already done an internship with a design company in Columbus. I’m interested in civil engineering. An engineer’s job in Vicksburg is to make the city more efficient and as advanced as possible. At first, I thought civil engineers were in an office doing things, but in actuality, engineers are doing everything they can to find solutions to the problems the city faces.

He said he accompanied Van Norman to a civil engineering convention “and that’s another part of engineering he taught me, you’ve got to do a lot of meeting with people and learn about new advances so you can retain your certification.”

Like Gibson, Brown, a Vicksburg resident who is a graduate student in urban planning at Jackson State University, requested to be assigned to the community development department, which handles planning and zoning for the city.

“I needed the internship to graduate,” she said. “It was wonderful that my professor was able to link me up with the city and get an internship here. It’s a great learning experience. It’s more than just reading books. I found out that the books don’t always cover everything.”

“She is doing very well. She’s been a lot of help,” Community Development Director Victor Gray-Lewis said, adding Brown has been working in different areas of community development and is currently doing research on building permit fees, calling other cities of similar size to Vicksburg to find out their fees for permits.

Besides the research, Brown said she has also proofread sections of the city’s proposed comprehensive plan and gone out with city code inspectors.

“I had to go inspect around abandoned homes, and I definitely had to get that experience,” she said, adding during some inspections, the inspectors encountered homeless people seeking shelter in the abandoned buildings.

“That was something I did not expect at all; that I would have to interact with people who were just living in an (abandoned) home,” she said.

Stevenson, a business administration major at Mississippi Valley State University with the goal of becoming a corporate lawyer, works in the human resources department.

“She has been very beneficial,” said Human Resources Director Walterine Langford. She said Stevenson has been handling several responsibilities, including assisting with filing and helping people with filling out job applications.

Stevenson said she also works with new hires for the city’s summer work program.

“I have an interest in employment law,” she said. “I’ve learned the different job descriptions. Human resources work with the top officials in the city, and it’s a great opportunity to meet so many people.”

Guizerix, who will be a senior at Ole Miss, and Barfield, who will be a senior at the University of Texas, have been working in Mayor George Flaggs’ office. Guizerix is a French major with a minor in political science, while Barfield is an economics major with an interest in law and politics.

The pair were sent right into the fire — doing research for information on what became Mayor George Flaggs Jr.’s employee pay plan the that increased the city’s minimum wage and set across the board cost of living increases for other city workers. Their work was included in the Mayor’s final report on the pay plan.

“We were asked to do background research and sit in on discussions (with department heads),” Guizerix said. “We had to make phone calls to other cities to compare (pay). It was frustrating sometimes. Sometimes they (other city officials) just didn’t respond.”

“Sometimes, you’d get someone who’s really, really helpful, and it’s refreshing to have people who really want to talk to you.”

Barfield, who recently left the mayor’s office to begin another internship with Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s office, called the internship interesting.

“We came in, and in 30 minutes, we were sitting in a meeting with all the department heads in the city,” he said. It’s really been great to see what goes on behind the scenes within the city.”

When they took the internships, they said, they did not know what to expect.

“I was nervous, but the mayor and (administrative assistant) Brian Boykins have been so great,” Guizerix said. “They are great to work with and have very good ideas (for the city). They love Vicksburg, which I think is refreshing. They live for the city.”

Barfield said the experience he’s had during the internship has given him some direction once he graduates, adding he’s looking at opportunities in law or working in government or in politics. Thompson hopes the internship program will encourage more students to look at working in government or possibly for the city. He would also like to see the program expand to private businesses “even if it’s a non-paid internship.”

“We have an aging work force, and if we can get some people in who will work with us and train with us, there may be a point somewhere along the line where we can employ or help get employed in the city or the private sector,” he said.

“We’re losing a lot of talent from the city and the state because of the lack of opportunity,” he said. “We want to provide that opportunity here.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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