When an organization starts an intern program, the people who manage and mentor have to get comfortable with a simple concept: you win some, you lose some.
King County Wastewater Treatment Division hosts an internship program to grow the next generation of wastewater employees.
“WTD’s intern program has given us the opportunity to encourage a diverse group of young people to learn about our business and prepare them to enter the workforce,” says Tim Aratani, Finance and Administrative Services Manager.
The program attracts a talented group of young people who bring fresh eyes, new skills, and energy to our workplace. We cheer when they decide to pursue a career in the water/wastewater industry. And we’re always a little sad when great interns devote their talents to other worthy pursuits.
Kirsten Garcia is one of those bright lights who has added value to WTD in many different ways. Kirsten is a junior student in the Healthcare Leadership Program at the University of Washington-Tacoma. She heard about WTD’s internship program through a family member and decided to give it a chance.
At WTD, Kirsten split her time between the Community Services Section and the Finance Section. King County’s Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) Strategic Plan is the common thread in all of her work. This six-year plan focuses on investments that address the root causes of inequities, and “balancing a bold vision with actionable and measurable objectives.”
Kirsten analyzed WTD’s progress on the division’s ESJ Work Plan. She looked at the County-wide plan and compared the guidelines within each category. She evaluated where WTD was doing well, and which areas needed more help. An active participant on WTD’s ESJ committee, she presented these findings to the committee and management to help guide next steps.
Tim Aratani, Kirsten’s mentor in Finance, praises Kirsten’s smarts. “She has demonstrated the ability to grasp concepts, processes and ideas quickly and incorporate them into WTD’s ESJ work plans.”
He continues. “Kirsten has established positive work relationships with key WTD staff, which enables her to monitor and update the work plan each quarter.”
Kirsten has provided lasting benefit to WTD’s outreach to diverse communities. She analyzed King County’s demographic maps to identify languages spoken within the service area. Then, she worked with an organization to translate brochures into Spanish, Russian, and Vietnamese. Customers use these brochures to understand the capacity charge that property owners with new sewer connections pay in addition to their regular sewer service.
In early 2017, WTD will distribute these translated brochures throughout target communities Kirsten’s analysis identified.
Kirsten is currently supporting WTD’s Internal Auditor to evaluate the billing systems of local sewer providers who pay King County for regional wastewater service. This evaluation will help ensure smooth and timely payment.
Kirsten says her internship has been important for her professional development. “People have invested a lot of time and care into helping me develop my skills as a young, woman of color entering the professional world.”
She gained a perspective on the world of public service. “My mentors and others have connected me with professionals throughout King County to give me insight into the countless career options within government.”
Kirsten embraced King County’s commitment to our diverse communities. She was inspired by the County-hosted Literary Arts Symposium on Reflecting on Race and Racism through Spoken Work, Story, and Conversation.
“I watched County employees working toward a more equitable workplace by sharing their experiences on race and racism,” she says.
She penned a post about the Symposium on her experience and perspective for the King County Employee News. Then, she stepped up to provide opening remarks for the fourth Literary Arts Symposium. “This opportunity allowed me to push through my comfort zone and to set the stage for the performances and intimate dialogue that followed,” she says.
While Kirsten’s internship has benefited WTD and our customers, we didn’t succeed in wooing her into the world of wastewater. She will continue her focus on health care, where we know from experience she will provide lasting value to diverse patient populations.
“I look forward to using my Healthcare Leadership degree to help historically disadvantaged populations as well as the Asian American Pacific Islander community of the Greater Seattle area to have more resources and accessible healthcare.”
After working at WTD, she is now considering an additional degree in in Ethnic, Gender, and Labor Studies.
Kirsten will leave a strong impression on everyone who works with her, and especially her mentors.
“She is committed to equity as a principle,” says De’Sean Quinn, Community Services Planner and WTD’s ESJ Liaison. “Kirsten has a very strong work ethic and a real devotion to public service and people.”
Tim Aratani characterizes the qualities that will make Kirsten a valuable employee wherever she goes. “Her passion and desire to produce quality work products are some of her many strengths.”
Kirsten, we appreciate everything you bring to WTD, we wish you the best- and we will miss you when you go.