In 2019, Charlene Marsh (AB ’19, AB ’19, MPA ’20) was encouraged to pursue an internship with Athens-Clarke County through the Experiential Learning Internship Program (ELIP). While she was excited for the opportunity, she never imagined the foundation it would lay for her future career. Now, just three years later, Charlene is the Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Norcross, Georgia.
When Dr. Leah Carmichael approached Charlene about the internship, she says she was excited for the chance to “kickstart her career in public service.” and get involved with her community. Through the internship with the mayor’s office, she grew her understanding of Athens in ways that volunteering and acting as the student body vice president for the University could not allow.
She was actively involved in policy research surrounding a number of issues in the Athens community, including urban renewal. From this experience, she learned the importance of collaboration in local government.
These lessons led her to an internship with Historic Athens, where she expanded her research on urban renewal, learning more about the destruction of the historic African American neighborhood Linnentown. Her research supported community education and a push for redress regarding the issue.
“The work I did with Historic Athens directly aligns with the work I want to do in local government — acknowledging the harms that have been done to communities and righting those wrongs through policy,” Charlene reflected.
After graduating with her Master’s in Public Administration, Charlene wanted to do some exploring before going into local government. She was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her plans to work abroad were thwarted.
Instead, Charlene pursued an opportunity to become an International City/County Management Association (ICMA) fellow with the City of Decatur, Georgia. In her role she worked on several special projects with senior leadership to develop new programs and policies related to homelessness and mental health issues. She said that she had a “very intimate experience with local government” and that “every day was a new adventure.”
Combining all of these valuable experiences, Charlene has wielded her knowledge of local governance by taking ownership of policies and programs with the City of Norcross.
She says that the Experiential Learning Internship Program helped her realize that “everyone has potential to be a leader.” Through her current position and her past internships, Charlene highlights the value of mentorship. “I have identified as a mentor for several people over these years and have benefited from being mentored by others, especially as a young, black woman in predominantly white spaces,” Charlene says.
One of the most valuable lessons she has learned from a mentor is to view your career as a jungle-gym instead of a latter because there is always an opportunity to build skills that are applicable no matter where you go.
She regards the ELIP as a “life-saver” and advises current students to “just go for it, even if you don’t think you’re qualified – the program will truly open doors for you! Treat it as an opportunity to learn about yourself and your community to get you connected with people in a field that you might want to go into, or not, but there are still connections to be made and skills to be developed.”