By Courtney Kock

Gilbert remains a leader in Native American inclusion with continued expansion of its Native American Management Internship.

Gilbert in 2013 launched the groundbreaking program, which puts college interns interested in civil service, to work in town government for a semester to provide them real-life experience.

The program is led by Leah Hubbard-Rhineheimer, assistant to the town manager, who says that the program came to be when town leaders recognized how important the area tribes are to the town.

“A lot of cities have relationships with different tribes, but they are very transactional and we wanted to make our relationship non-transactional. We wanted it to be very meaningful and authentic,” Hubbard-Rhineheimer said.

Since its inception, the program has hosted 12 interns. This year, the program has a record four participants, double the average number. Next year, there are four interns anticipated for the 2017 spring and summer semesters, as well.

This growth comes as more departments recognize the potential of the program, according to Hubbard-Rhineheimer.

The program most recently was honored at the 21st Annual Gilbert Excellence Awards on Nov. 4. The program received the Municipal Award for Public Service for teaching interns to “utilize the real-world local government experience and apply their knowledge as they work with native communities, organizations and issues upon graduation.”

Dawntaye Johnson, among the four interns for the fall 2016 semester, is the first intern to work in IT for Gilbert.

“A lot of us are shy,” Johnson said. “For a lot of us, it’s culture shock.”

The program provides interns with more than just work experience, according to Johnson. She said she will leave the program more confident and prepared to help the Navajo community upon graduation.

The program benefits the local government just as much as the interns that it hosts, Hubbard-Rhineheimer says.

“We get into a rhythm and we see and do things a certain way and its always helpful to stop and think about how other people view things and learn from that and it can influence the way we do things in the future,” Hubbard-Rhineheimer said. “You can never have too much understanding.”

The internship pays participants $15 an hour a part-time employee during over the semester. The town pays interns exclusivelywith third-party funding with no cost to taxpayers.

The internship is available to undergraduates and graduate students, with priority given to  graduate students studying American Indian Studies, business leadership, public administration or public policy, according to Gilbert officials.

Samantha Harris, an intern in 2015 and 2016, said at the award ceremony that she was moved to intern again after her first semester with the town.

According to Hubbard-Rhineheimer, former interns have continued to work in local and federal government. Some have gone on to work for nonprofit organizations.