Northwestern students intern for Evanston city officials

Jia You

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On his first day with Ald. Jane Grover (7th), Weinberg freshman Wilson Shirley found himself and the alderman knitting together at Unicorn Cafe while discussing issues in her ward.

Shirley is interning in the alderman’s office this Winter Quarter through Northwestern’s Evanston Civic Internship Program, an initiative jointly offered by the University’s Center for Civic Engagement and Center for Leadership.

“She’s a very casual woman,” Shirley said. “She’s very, very accommodating.”

The program has sent 36 student interns to the city government and nonprofits in the past two years, said Megan Everett, program assistant at the two centers.

“The idea was to place NU students with different city government officials of Evanston just so they can learn more about the town that they live in,” Everett said. “And so that our city officials at Evanston also get to know Northwestern students better.”

In addition to meeting with Grover every few weeks to discuss community issues, Shirley edits Grover’s ward newsletters and helps coordinate meetings. He will attend a ward meeting, as well as Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl’s State of the City Address, in March.

“I didn’t really have a sense of what a city government was beforehand,” Shirley said. “Now I feel not only more connected to the city government, but I feel like I know what its purposes are more.”

Shirley isn’t the only NU student to intern with a city official. Weinberg junior Robin Saywitz has interned with Catherine Hurley, the city’s sustainability coordinator, since the beginning of Winter Quarter as well.

Saywitz has written an application for an award on green buildings for the city and designed recycling posters to be put up in Evanston apartments this summer.

“It’s never boring,” said Saywitz, an environmental science major. “There’s always something going on.”

Besides working on sustainability projects, Saywitz said she learned “insider stuff” about Evanston. With her desk next to city manager Wally Bobkiewicz’s office, Saywitz saw preparation for the January liquor board hearing regarding The Keg of Evanston.

Shirley said the internship has changed his outlook on the city.

“I get a different perspective than just a student perspective,” Shirley said.

The feeling is mutual. Grover said working with a student intern has been “a lot of fun.”

“It’s wonderful for me to have a student’s perspective on a lot of issues we address in the city,” she said.

The internship program is “very productive for the University and the city,” Everett said.

“It definitely improves town-gown (relations),” she added.

Both Shirley and Saywitz plan to continue their internships next quarter.

“I want to see if the award applications that I wrote get picked,” Saywitz said

Saywitz said she is now considering a career in city government, working on sustainability issues.

“I wouldn’t have known that unless I’d had this internship,” she said.

jiayou2014@u.northwestern.edu

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