Arizona State University students who aspire to be in charge of a municipality can get direct experience working with actual city and town managers through a paid internship program offered through the School of Public Affairs (SPA).
The Marvin Andrews Fellowship in Urban Management began 16 years ago when a group of current and former city managers of Valley communities approached the university with a suggestion to create a tailored program for SPA graduate students who specifically desire to become a city or town manager.
Several former managers continue to support the program through financial contributions, said Cynthia Seelhammer, a professor of practice and a former city and county manager who coordinates the fellowship, named for former Phoenix city manager Marvin Andrews.
The fellowship has been so successful at preparing students for local government management careers, Seelhammer said, that cities and towns have started offering them jobs even before they complete their final semester.
“It’s a sign that these students are ready. They have the knowledge, the professional experience and skills,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has offered the fellows, called “Marvins,” several opportunities to innovate, she said.
School of Public Affairs graduate student Stephanie Zamora was part of a team that received the ASU President’s Medal for Social Embeddedness for her work as public information officer for the small Maricopa County town of Guadalupe. Zamora, who will earn her master's degree in public affairs in May 2022, devised several effective communications strategies to encourage Guadalupe’s mostly Latino and American Indian population to obtain COVID-19 vaccinations, Seelhammer said.
Zamora’s work with the town was, and still is, her regular job. Her fellowship assigned her an internship with the city of Scottsdale, which she’s currently completing while still working for the town of Guadalupe.
The fellowship is training leaders for among the most essential tasks American government performs, Seelhammer said.
“Local government is the most foundational form of democracy, the closest to the people, where those you elect are making government work,” she said. “Local government is in charge of the water you turn on in the morning, the streets you drive on, the parks your kids go to. We are graduating students who are ready to make that work better, faster and smarter, including improving the quality of life for residents.”
To be selected as a fellow, a student must undergo an elaborate interview process in the spring where the program seeks those who are specifically looking to work in local government management, rather than having a desire to enter general public service, Seelhammer said.
“They should have a solid understanding of local government, a desire to provide service to citizens and want to work to improve the quality of life in their communities,” she said.
Chloe Baldwin, one of the 2021–22 fellows, said in the few months since she began the program in August, she’s accumulated a great deal of knowledge about local government management
“Through the Marvin Andrews Fellowship and my employment through ASU, I have been able to assist municipalities in Arizona research an array of topics from best practices for community gardens to homelessness service metrics,” Baldwin said. “I have met and learned from countless local government officials from across the state, and I am very grateful to have these opportunities to expand my education beyond the classroom to gain practical community experience.”
Another fellow, LaTisha Gilmore, said she found her experiences highly rewarding.
“Within the last several months, I've had many opportunities to conduct research, tour local city governments, attend various conferences and learn about the behind-the-scenes work that allows local government to run smoothly,” Gilmore said. “I've developed wonderful connections with local leaders and professionals in the public sector, and I am excited to use the skills and knowledge from my experience so far to apply to my second-year internship.”
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