GARDINER — In the moment when she had to explain her work, Haley Jaramillo found her confidence.

In the hours leading up to last week’s Gardiner City Council meeting, the 22-year-old University of Maine at Farmington student was a little fidgety and nervous.

After a semester in Farmington, Jaramillo was once again on familiar territory in Gardiner: She spent part of her summer as a paid intern for Gardiner city government. She knew the room and the people who would be in it, and she knew her work. Jaramillo’s assignment had been to revise or draft a number of city policies. Three of them were on Wednesday’s City Council agenda for consideration — the city’s purchasing policy, a new policy on the disposition of tax-acquired and other city property, and a policy on replacing mailboxes damaged by snow plows under certain conditions.

“I surprised myself with the knowledge I had and the input I was able to give,” she said a day after the meeting during which she spent more than an hour answering questions about her work. “It made me feel proud that all of them passed.”

“We were lucky to have her,” Gardiner City Manager Scott Morelli said.

Last year for the first time, the City Council agreed to set aside funds to pay for a summer intern.

“We lost 35 percent of city staff since 2010,” Morelli said, “and things will get put on the back burner.”

Revising and drafting policies is one of those things, he said. Putting in place guidance around how the city takes on or disposes of tax-acquired properties was one of his priorities.

In offering the internship, Morelli said he hoped he could have someone come in and help city staff catch up on some outstanding tasks.

Morelli was luckier than he knew. Once the city budget was approved in June, he was able to post the internship. But for most college students, internships are secured far earlier in the year.

That was the case for Jaramillo, who is majoring in environmental planning and policy. She had already committed to an internship with Somerset Woods Trustees in Skowhegan. It entailed about 400 hours worth of work including field time.

But when James Melcher, one of her professors, contacted her about the Gardiner opportunity, she was interested.

“I got this email out of the blue on a Tuesday in late May,” she said. Melcher, who had taught a public policy course she had taken, said it was close to her home in Hallowell, and he thought she’d be qualified for it.

She filled out the application that night and submitted it with her resume. Within a day she was interviewed, within another she was hired and she started the following Monday, splitting her time between the two internships.

Morelli said that for a variety of reasons, he wasn’t able to meet with Jaramillo as much as he had expected, but she worked very well without a lot of close supervision.

Cultivating the interest of students like Jaramillo is critical, Morelli said.

“We’ve lost the public management program at the University of Maine, and USM has been drastically altered. We worry about the future of our profession,” he said. “We have to make sure we’re training people for it, people who are not necessarily older white males. One of the goals for our national organization is to increase diversity.”

What she learned in Gardiner transcended the work she put in researching policies, drafting language and sending it for review.

She said it was the first job she had where she felt like a capable adult, and it gave her a front-row seat to a profession that’s based on helping people. In researching policies in other communities, she was able to talk to other city managers and watch Morelli at work.

“Just seeing Scott answer so many questions and help so many people was amazing,” she said. “I like that there’s a bit of unpredictability.”

The internship gave her confidence in her writing and speaking skills and gave her some valuable perspective. It’s one thing to learn something in class, she said, and quite another to put that knowledge to work in the real world.

“It really gave me an opportunity to see that I shouldn’t feel smaller or less intelligent or less qualified than other people,” she said.

Jaramillo is the first person in her family to go to college, and she’s set to graduate in May. She has already started applying to urban management and urban renewal programs at graduate schools — Michigan State University, Ohio University, the University of New Mexico and the Muskie School at the University of Southern Maine. She expects to start hearing whether she’s been accepted in mid-January.

“Long term, my goal is to stay in central Maine,” she said, where she grew up and where her parents live. “I like being able to know my neighbors.”

Even as she waits for that, she has started applying for jobs around the region that suit her interests.

“You have to have options,” she said. “Life is unpredictable.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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