GVSU welcomes first student ICMA chapter in state

Ryan Jarvi

The first student chapter of the International City/County Management Association in Michigan held its opening event on Sept. 16 that provided Grand Valley State University students an opportunity to
network with city and county government administrators.

The ICMA was officially created in 1914 as a professional organization for local government officials.
A few years ago, the group decided to let universities start their own student chapters.

About 40 people attended the event, which was held at the George and Barbara Gordon Gallery on
GVSU’s Pew Campus. Jason Escareno, a graduate student in the Masters of Public Administration
program, is the group’s first president and a co-founder of the organization.

“Grand Valley has one of the greatest MPA programs in the Midwest, so I thought it would be a great
fit for them to also have a student chapter because this profession is extremely heavy on networking,”
Escareno said. “It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know.”

Since ICMA began allowing student chapters, about 20 have been created nationally, Escareno said,
but GVSU’s is the first in Michigan.

Though the majority of students involved with ICMA are from the MPA program, some are from the
health and nonprofit programs as well, said the group’s adviser Mark Hoffman, professor in the School
of Public, Nonprofit and Health Administration.

Part of the reasoning behind forming the chapter was to help students connect with local government
officials to provide them with opportunities.

“It’s really hard to find the right internship,” Escareno said. “If we could just put our goals in a list of
three or four things, that would be the first thing that I’d like to do—to just help people meet people
and get an internship with a city manager that wants somebody to come and learn their job. They all
want to teach. The students are sometimes reluctant to just walk up to them or walk into their offices
—they could come to one of our events and just get a business card.”

The organization is still getting on its feet after being formed late last year, so it hasn’t set meeting
times yet, but it has already had a lot of support from the community, Escareno said.

George Heartwell, mayor of Grand Rapids, was among the crowd who attended the networking event.

“Most of the students I’ve spoken to tonight already have either full-time jobs or internships in local
governments, so they’re getting some great practical experience in their field,” Heartwell said.

He added that GVSU and the city of Grand Rapids have had a strong working relationship in the past,
and at any given time there are six to eight GVSU students doing internships at City Hall, working on
anything from climate change to social media.

“They’re doing some great work that kind of expands the ability of the city,” Heartwell said. “We’re
limited—our staff is 30 percent less than what was 10 years ago—so when I’ve got bright people and
students who can come in and do this research work like that, it’s just invaluable—and for them,
they’re working at a high level right inside city government.”

Cody Sikanas, a student in the MPA program with an emphasis in criminal justice, doesn’t have an
internship yet, but hopes to meet the right people through one of the ICMA events and talk to
professionals who have real-world experience.

“It’s a good opportunity to meet people that are in the positions that we hope to get someday,”
Sikanas said.

Patrick Waterman, city manager of Hudsonville, is involved with Michigan Local Government
Management Association, which is tied into ICMA. Within MLGMA, Waterman is on a committee called
Next Gen.

“The purpose of that committee is to try to garner interest in the profession of city management and
to network newly graduated MPA students with those who are in the profession,” Waterman said,
which was the reason he attended the event.

GVSU President Thomas Haas said the university has had success with providing students with
internships, which is another way for students to connect with professionals.

“It creates a relationship and networking opportunity for our students and, I think, helps people to
find themselves, too,” he said, mentioning that students often learn about themselves while
completing an internship or sharing information about themselves with professionals.

He was also pleased with the newly established ICMA chapter, which is another step in connecting
students to real-world practitioners.

“It’s about relationships and networking, and when we can take our students and provide them
opportunities to chat with the professionals…I’m just really, really pleased,” Haas said.

Nathan Mehmed, vice president of the ICMA student chapter, also helped found the organization.

“Personally, I wanted to start this chapter because I have a passion for local and regional government,”
he said. “I am also dedicated to public service, and I believe that helping to found this chapter was a
positive step in my dedication to the profession.”

Though the organization is focused more on students going into local government professions,
Mehmed said anyone interested is encouraged to attend the events.

“Other students should get involved if they share the same interest in local and county government,”
he said. “The GVSU ICMA chapter is a great way to network with fellow students, local managers and
get involved with the ICMA early in your career.”

For more information about GVSU’s chapter of ICMA and a list of upcoming events, visit

[email protected]