I stayed up late the other night, sitting at the kitchen table and looking over the DeKalb Water Quality Report. It had been sitting unnoticed among junk mail for a few weeks, waiting to be thrown out or perhaps used to kill an ant.
As I sat down with my late, post-class dinner, the water tower on the cover of the pamphlet caught my eye.
I was suddenly intrigued. It wasn’t because what was in the report had changed since its delivery. The same data tables and frequently asked questions still were sitting inside, waiting for someone who cared to interpret the information. But my perspective had changed.
As part of my graduate school program at Northern Illinois University, I am an intern with the village of Montgomery. Although most of my time is spent at Village Hall, this summer I will be utilized by the public works department.
On June 5, I started at public works, where I was given a workstation, introduced to the staff, and taken on a tour of the facility. On one side of the building is the garage; the other side houses Montgomery’s water treatment plant.
That night, as I set my dinner plate down next to the DeKalb water report, the document had new relevance. I suddenly cared what it said, not because I was worried it would reveal a safety issue with the water in my drinking glass, but because I had been given a glimpse into what the document actually means to a municipality.
Water is a complicated resource. It must be treated, tested and maintained at standards required by the Environmental Protection Agency. Municipal provision of water is a major responsibility.
The DeKalb document talked about deep wells, ion exchange treatment and chemical presence. Just hours earlier, I toured one of Montgomery’s wells, learned about ion exchange treatment, and saw what equipment is used to test for chemicals.
It is considered a success when internship experience intersects with education. Educators are constantly encouraged to provide real-world examples of theory, and worthwhile internships are designed to give students hands-on experience.
Forging a connection between work and real life is even more essential. If a duty performed on the job can be brought home, it proves the worth of the work.
I’ve made plenty of affiliations among classroom work, a real-world internship and job experience (if those connections aren’t happening, rethink your higher education decision).
But never have I experienced such a quick transition from near ignorance (not to mention indifference) to true interest and curiosity.
I’m lucky to understand even a little bit of that water quality report, even if it doesn’t make me qualified to be a water treatment plant operator or run a pH test. It means my education and internship will not only be relevant to my future career but also to areas in my life that have nothing to do with work.
• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.