College student does internship with City of Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE — Alysa Osterman, a student at Florida Gulf Coast University, spent several weeks this summer as an unpaid, part-time office assistant intern for the city of Okeechobee. Ms. Osterman said the college does not set internships up for its students but if the student wants to do one, they are encouraged to talk to their advisors. The students must find the internships themselves, and because she is majoring in political science and she is interested in local government, she decided to contact the city to see if it would be possible to intern there.

Alysa Osterman wanted to know more about the most basic and arguably the most important level of government, she said. Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble.

She began by going on the city website and emailing anyone she thought might want an intern or who she thought might be able to point her in the direction. She emailed Mayor Dowling Watford because he helped her with a school project in the past, and she thought, “He knows everyone. I’m sure he will help me.” She emailed all the department heads, and it ended up working out, she said.

City Clerk Lane Gamiotea made most of the arrangements for her once it was officially determined she would be interning. She set it up for her to spend a week in each department.

Ms. Osterman spent from one-to-two weeks in the following departments: the city clerk’s office, finance, fire, police, general services and public works. In most departments, she just shadowed everyone to get a feel for what they do on a daily basis. They did what they normally do and explained it to Ms. Osterman as they went along.

Some departments gave her projects to do. In the general services and the finance departments, they were making things to give to fourth graders who were coming on a field trip and she was able to help with those projects. General services made a little book, and she made that for them. The finance department made little pieces of money with the mayor’s face on it as a little goodie for the kids, and she was able to help with that. During her second week in finance, she helped Finance Director India Riedel with her work on revamping the appearance of the budget. They wanted to make it cooler, she said, so she spent a lot of time looking at budgets from all over the state of Florida and even some from out of the state and came back with some interesting ideas on ways to show the data differently.

While working with the police department, she was able to spend a few hours with dispatch which she really enjoyed. She also drove around with Officer Raul Marrero and she helped Teresa Garcia with a records management project which she found very interesting. Ms. Garcia gave her expert guidance and said, “You can do this.” That was a lot of fun. It was different because she had never done anything like that before.

She spent three days with the fire department, so she was able to work with each shift, and she said she found it interesting to see how different each shift was. She got to go on all the calls, and said it was really exciting!

During her two weeks in the city clerk’s office, they were working on a huge records project, she said. “It was massive! They are still working on it.” She found that very interesting. They were sorting pension files and making new files for them because they will be sent off to be scanned.

She was probably most hesitant about her time with the public works department, she said. She wondered what she would do there, but it ended up being a lot of fun. She got to meet everyone, and they had a barbecue. They watched all the old safety videos from the ’70s and ’80s, and she said they were hilarious — very overly dramatic.

She will get three college credits for her internship, and that is exciting to her, because she said she has been going to college for quite a while, and it was nice to earn credits outside the classroom. She did it for class credit but also for personal growth. Her school doesn’t really talk about local government, she explained. They talk more about federal and international which she said she finds interesting, but she wanted to know more about the most basic and arguably the most important level of government. “It’s the one everyone will be interacting with, but people often overlook it, so I wanted to understand it,” she said.

Finance Director India Riedel said: “Alysa seemed to welcome the opportunity to learn and absorb information from each of the processes within the finance department. The information which was shared during her internship generally seemed to pique her interest and intrigue her. Alysa’s professional manor and inquisitive mind will serve her well in her future endeavors.”

Mayor Watford said: “The city was very fortunate to have Alysa as an intern this summer. She provided some much-needed help to several departments while learning about how local government works. It was refreshing to see a young person interested in government and public service. Not only did she fulfill her college requirements, she was able to use her experience to acquire a part-time job as she completes her college degree.”

Although Ms. Osterman was originally planning to graduate in December, she has postponed that date because she will be finishing up her classes online rather than in person. This will push her graduation date back to May, but she has a very good reason for her decision. After her internship, an opportunity opened up for her to become the assistant to the city clerk in Indiantown, and she pointed out, she was already graduating two years ahead of schedule, so it won’t hurt to put graduation off one semester.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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