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September 28, 2011

Interns Make a Difference in Rural Alberta Communities

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From the Sept 26, 2011 Issue of Agri-News

Working on municipal bylaws in a closet may not be for everyone, but for political science student Jeremy Smith, it was an exceptional opportunity.

Smith is one of 12 rural capacity interns placed by the University of Alberta (U of A) Augustana Campus in rural communities through the rural capacity intern program. This program was jointly made possible by the U of A and Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD).

Smith’s supervisor, Cory Ollikka, chief administrative officer (CAO), Smoky Lake County, appreciated Smith’s work, not only because he completed a task that had long been on the ‘to do’ list, but for its longer term effect on county operations.

“The internship may not have achieved organizational change but I think there is a cultural shift regarding policy,” says Ollikka. “A cultural shift may not be a highly noticeable difference, but reflection on this exercise [Smith’s bylaw review] trickles over into further policy discussions.”

Other community supervisors participating in this program have felt the benefit of the interns in bringing fresh eyes and new ideas to their organizations. Rural municipalities and organizations, which are frequently characterized by a higher average age than their urban counterparts, have also welcomed and appreciated the youth perspective.

But it isn’t just the communities that have benefited. As one intern observed, “The community has so much to offer youth as a learning experience. This is a life changing experience.”

Beyond the benefits specific to their own communities and projects, community supervisors emphasize that the internship program generally adds significant value to rural communities.

“The internship program is vitally important to small towns and villages,” says Debra Moffatt, CAO Forestburg. “The vast majority can’t afford a person to do research or bylaw reviews or any of the other things the interns were doing.”

The rural capacity intern program was a two year pilot designed to provide interns with a comprehensive rural experience where they were exposed to multiple aspects of rural municipal planning, administration, and program development.

As program co-lead, Dr. Karsten Mundel, University of Alberta, Augustana, says, “The program represented an opportunity to do meaningful work in a short time with good people."

Click here to read the original article.


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