YAO student trainees’ work experience allows them to grow, shine

Written by: Yuma Area Office

Liliana Belmonte, standing, and Alecxis Meneses learn the basics of dredging from YAO Small Craft Operator (Dredgehand) Robert Clark. <em>LCR photo by George Onwiler</em>
Liliana Belmonte, standing, and Alecxis Meneses learn the basics of dredging from YAO Small Craft Operator (Dredgehand) Robert Clark. LCR photo by George Onwiler
“There was always something new to experience,” said Enrique Cervantes, describing his participation in an eight-week internship at the Yuma Area Office (YAO) that he and eight other students recently completed and during which they gained work experience and learned about YAO operations.

The group also included Tara Andre, Gustavo Reyes and Matthew Federico, who worked in the Desalting and Program Management Office, Noel Robles, who worked in the Technical Support Office (TSO) along with Cervantes, Rusty Williams and George Onwiler, who worked in the Administrative Support Office, and Liliana Belmonte and Alecxis Meneses, who worked in the Resource Management Office.

Their internships were the highlight of a busy summer for them, which was preceded by a March 3, Student Employment Awareness Event hosted at YAO. At that event, Drake Cruz, Nicole Wilson, Brittany Johnson and Katie Swinn, from the Regional Office’s Human Resources and Equal Employment Opportunity offices, guided approximately 25 local students through the ins and outs of applying and interviewing for federal jobs, preparing a resume and networking with employers. Alluding to the quality and significance of this training, representatives from the Yuma Private Industry Council, Arizona Department of Economic Security and Goodwill of Central Arizona were also present to garner information and insight.

“YAO got to present itself as an employer of choice to the next generation of federal employees,” said YAO Management Assistant Brittany McAleese, who helped coordinate the event at YAO along with Administrative Support Office Chief Owen Fulsome; both expressed excitement about the event’s success.

During their internships, students had the opportunity to engage in a number of different activities. During their first week here, the interns enjoyed a tour of the YAO and the Yuma Desalting Plant, and received introductory training about office safety, communication skills and other resources available to them. Then, they proceeded to their work assignments in their respective offices and occasionally in the field.

“The most fun I had was when I was out with Chris Patane of YAO’s TSO, Construction Services Group, at the Imperial Dam for an inspection,” Cervantes recalled. “I got to talk to engineers while they managed their tasks and got to see wildlife. I also learned of different places [managed] by the Bureau of Reclamation, some of which I didn’t know existed.”

Echoing Cervantes’ feelings, Noel Robles stated, “The most fun and educational experience I had was working with Fred Croxen of YAO’s TSO, Geology and Groundwater Team. We visited over 100 wells, went to drilling sites and even took samples of the sediment makeup in order to understand the requirements for future wells to be implanted in the area. I got a great look into the worlds of hydrology and engineering because of this experience.”

Near the end of their employment at YAO, each intern gave a brief presentation about his or her experiences. Then, in the last week of their internships, the students experienced a three-hour tour of YAO facilities and projects — visiting Imperial Dam, trying their hand at dredging and learning about the environmental goals of YAO’s Laguna Conservation Project. As they rotated through the various tour destinations, Acting Deputy Regional Director Charlie Addington and Special Assistant to the Regional Director Michael Bernardo accompanied the group and visited with the students.

Following the tour, the students enjoyed an appreciation lunch, after which Addington and Bernardo shared words of experience and encouragement to the students to take with them as they prepared to return to school in the fall. At the conclusion of the event, the students received a copy of Colossus by Michael Hiltzik, inscribed by Regional Director Terry Fulp, as he had done for the departing summer employee students in the Boulder City area. The book describes the history and construction of Hoover Dam.

“I have learned about all the work that goes into maintaining the Colorado River, which has given me a greater appreciation for Reclamation,” said Tara Andre as she summed up the effect the intern experience had on her and the other interns. “I have done work that utilizes and reinforces my skills and education, which, in turn, has shown me the direction I should take for my career.” She added that she “. . . became invested in the work,” and the people with whom she worked.

“I believe that becoming invested in the workplace should be considered a fantastic result of the internship program and I know that my fellow interns share this sentiment,” she concluded. “The YAO has invested in us and now we interns are ready to invest in the YAO!”

Published on August 15, 2016