Some of what the 16 interns working at City Utilities are doing is grunt work, such as making copies and inputting data into a computer. But a manager who used to be in their shoes says all of it is essential.
“We make sure to tell them that this isn't busy work,” said Ben Groeneweg, utility asset manager. “We make sure to let them know that everything they're doing is value added.”
Interns are working in areas like engineering, the energy department and construction management. City Utilities offers diverse career options.
“Most people look at Utilities and think we just provide water, but we do so much more,” City Utilities Director Kumar Menon said. “We manufacture a product: clean water. To do that, we need a whole bunch of people.”
Interns help handle the workload, much as Groeneweg did before he was hired 12 years ago.
Program manager Nathan Baggett instructed Groeneweg during his internship, and Baggett was an intern in the early stages of the program, which started about 20 years ago.
Baggett recalls having a negative experience at an internship years ago in Ohio, saying he made blueprint copies all day and learned next to nothing.
“When the opportunity arose to intern for the city of Fort Wayne, I jumped at it,” Baggett said. “It was fulfilling.”
City Utilities interns are getting useful experience, Menon said. They're not fetching coffee for anybody. Instead, they tackle real projects and problems.
Maria Palmegiani is a civil engineering intern and soon-to-be senior at Purdue University Fort Wayne.
“I really like how there's a lot of trust here in your position as an intern,” she said. “Interns are going out into the field, and we feel like we're doing something.”
Michaela Byrne, a junior at Ohio University, drives an hour every day to Fort Wayne from her home in Ottoville, Ohio.
“I honestly feel like this is a good internship program they have going here,” Byrne said. “You have your own responsibilities, but I have the support to do my job.”
The internship opportunities go beyond summer.
Adama Samba, a PFW senior from the African nation of Senegal has been a City Utilities intern for three years. He works full time in the summer and part time during the school year.
“It's very flexible and willing to push you to do something and try something you might really want to do in the future,” Samba said. He said he is also getting “the American experience,” and had his first peanut butter and jelly sandwich thanks to his internship.
Interns have to reapply for their internship but, like Samba, can work at City Utilities for multiple years. And eventually, they could be a candidate for a job with the city once they graduate.
Groeneweg said about 20% to 25% of the City Utilities staff are former interns.
The interns are also taken on tours of county dams, the filtration plant and waste water plant. Tours, along with internship work, all help the common goal of education.
“If you're a student and you're looking for experience, even if it's not with us, take advantage of your opportunities to be an intern,” Baggett said. “If you really want to explore a career, there's no better way than an internship.”
About the internships
City Utilities internships are open to college students pursuing engineering, communication, real estate, public management, electrical careers and others.
All internships are paid, and some positions are available beyond the summer months.
A complete list of available City Utilities internships can be found at cityoffortwayne.org under the Employment tab.