County internship program offers ASU students an inside look at public service

MCLEAPS presentations

Jesse Potestas presents his group's work in the MCLEAPS internship program to a group of county, university and community attendees.


For ASU undergraduate Jesse Potestas, finding the perfect internship opportunity was literally seeing the sign.

Potestas, a global health major, was doing research in the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus library when he saw a sign advocating Maricopa County Leadership and Education Advancing Public Service, or quite simply MCLEAPS.

“MCLEAPS interns experience what is currently happening in government, what’s working and some of the innovative programs being implemented,” said ASU coordinator for the program Maryjo Douglas Zunk. “And, as the fourth largest county in the nation, Maricopa County offers a great variety of these experiences.”

MCLEAPS is an ASU-Maricopa County partnership, administered by ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions but available to all ASU students. Students compete for paid, work-learning opportunities within various departments of Maricopa County.

“There’s a real need for county officials and employees to transfer knowledge to a new generation, and MCLEAPS has been a really good program in helping to do just that,” Douglas Zunk said.

Potestas’ internship took him to the Air Quality Department of Maricopa County, where he was excited and a little surprised at how much he was able to see and learn.

Potestas helped research Travel Reduction Programs, which are designed to have institutions and businesses partner with the county government in an effort to implement ways of reducing emissions. This includes encouraging employees to use public transportation or even carpool so that the emissions released in the air by motor vehicles is reduced. In part of this research, Potestas interacted and consulted with other counties in the state, as well as on national and worldwide levels.

“It was an interesting ‘hands on’ experience,” Potestas stated. “We were interacting with people and working towards a solution that could potentially be implemented into county protocol.”

The internship also demonstrated just how deep some of these departments go, as he was able to sit in on stakeholder meetings and was also able to visit some pretty obscure destinations.

One of the businesses Potestas toured as part of an inspection was an actual crematorium, ensuring their practices were up to the Air Quality Department’s code.

Postestas also reveled in the fact that he was able to sit in on Maricopa Association of Government (MAG) sessions with various officials, being able to discuss planning of large valley events such as last year’s Super Bowl.

“The Air Quality Department internship was not just that, it also highlighted the inner-workings of professional public service,” Potestas said. “Knowing that I want to be a component of public service, it gave me something I could look forward to.”

The MCLEAPS program not only helps ASU students gain valuable knowledge and experience, but also helps to better Maricopa County as a whole. ASU students are residents of the county while attending the University, and their work in the program benefits the residents of Maricopa County. So the Interns are fulfilling the purpose of Maricopa County programs, “citizens helping citizens.”

“Everyone is aware of federal, state, and city government but the county is really not thought of as much in regards to public service,” said Mary Ellen Sheppard, assistant manager of Maricopa County and director of human resources. “This is an opportunity to educate students about county governments, and I think that is critical.”

Sheppard enjoys the fact that MCLEAPS offers students a chance to come in and see what the county is doing, ask questions, challenge, contribute, and ultimately to get excited about public service.

“What MCLEAPS brings to the county, is such energy and questioning, which is good for us,” Sheppard said. “Being able to see how our employees manage all they are responsible for educates the interns, and the more they know, the better prepared they are to influence the future of government work.”

The internship program spans a wide range of departments in Maricopa County. Each semester is different and may include Environmental Services, Flood Control District, Human Resources, Juvenile Probation, the Education Service Agency, or the County Attorney and Treasurer’s Offices.

New projects proposals will be announced later this spring for participation in fall 2016.  The new internships will be posted and open to all ASU students who complete the online application process, and will give students an in-depth view of how their particular “piece”, or career area of interest, functions in the government puzzle.

For more information about the MCLEAPS Internship Program students are encouraged to visit the ASU website or contact MaryJo Douglas Zunk at

Written by Christopher Hernandez

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