U students intern in area neighborhoods

Local neighborhood associations offer a variety of valuable student internships.

Kevin McCahill

Many University majors require students to finish an internship before they graduate, and area neighborhood associations have played a big role in helping students fulfill that requirement.

Those involved say these organizations provide a hands-on opportunity for students looking for real-world work experience.

Urban studies senior Charla Heutinck began her internship this semester with the Southeast Como Improvement Association, and said it has helped her better understand the neighborhood she lives in.

She has worked with the restorative justice program, the solar pilot program and Neighborhood Revitalization Program projects, she said.

Heutinck hadn’t heard of the Southeast Como Improvement Association until she found out about it from a friend who had worked there as an intern.

She has an interest in recycling programs and had thought much about community involvement projects, Heutinck said. She works about 15 hours a week and tries to attend some board meetings throughout the month, she said.

The Southeast Como Improvement Association has helped spark her interest in other programs such as the solar power project the association is working on, Heutinck said.

She also is working with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and some businesses to prevent the spread of harmful chemical trichloroethylene, which can be found in adhesives, paint removers and in some underground water sources as a result of manufacturing, Heutinck said.

“I think it was a really necessary internship to have for me,” she said. “It’s shown the importance of community organizing.”

Jennifer Lee, resource center coordinator for Southeast Como Improvement Association, said interns like Heutinck quickly become like staff members and are involved in a lot of activities.

“All of our experiences (with interns) have been very positive,” she said. “They learn a lot about the organization and play a significant role.”

Neighborhood associations are a good way for students to learn about their goals, Lee said.

“It’s a really easy access point,” she said. “It’s the chance for someone to get a taste of what this (job) is like.”

Heutinck said neighborhood groups are important and more people should be involved.

“Everyone in the community needs to be represented,” she said. “We don’t want just single-family-home owners on the committees deciding what should be worked on. We need everyone.”

Urban studies undergraduate adviser Paula Pentel said her department has been helping students obtain internships for 30 years. Students must do an internship before graduating, she said, and students typically work about 144 hours during the semester.

Pentel said students have the opportunity to work at a variety of nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

Students have interned with the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter, the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis and at Casa de Esperanza, along with neighborhood associations, she said.

“It’s a great way to put what they learned in the classroom and to test it out in the real world,” Pentel said.

Working with neighborhood associations is a good opportunity for civic engagement among students and their neighborhoods, she said.

“We always encouraged students to become involved and know about their neighborhood,” she said.

She said students are under the direction of neighborhood leaders and typically do a wide variety of activities, from traffic studies to computer mapping.

Katie Hatt is the executive director of the Longfellow Community Council for the Longfellow, Cooper, Howe and Hiawatha neighborhoods in Minneapolis.

Hatt has two University students working for her organization. She said the students are involved in environmental programs and working on projects for Neighborhood Revitalization Program funding.

Students who work in neighborhood associations learn from the bottom up, Hatt said, allowing them to get a snapshot of what is involved.

“They have the ability to see the grassroots perspective,” she said.

Urban studies senior Chris Davis has been working with the Longfellow Community Council on a project centered on light rail development near 38th Street South. Davis said he enjoys his internships, but doesn’t think he could work for a neighborhood organization.

“After doing this, I’d rather work more for a developer,” he said. “I have a huge respect for the (Longfellow) organization, but I’m not the most patient person in the world. Working with residents ‘ that requires a lot of patience.”