Program has WWU students helping cities complete major projects

POULSBO — A representative from Western Washington University pitched the idea of partnering with the city to complete sustainability projects during the WWU Sustainable Communities Concept Meeting held last week at city hall.

In a discussion involving local stakeholders, Lindsey MacDonald, the program coordinator for WWU’s sustainable communities partnership, presented the concept — giving students from the school the opportunity to do an internship with a local government and perform work related to their field of study at a fraction of the cost normally associated with such tasks.

“Anything that makes a community more thriving and livable fits the defintion,” MacDonald said.

For example, WWU students recently worked for the city of Edmonds on a cemetery mapping project to help people easily find the headstones of friends and relatives. Instead of paying six figures for a study by a consultant, Edmonds paid about $7,000, which is the approximate cost for each project, MacDonald said. Students have also worked with Stanwood and Skagit County on various projects, and the university is looking to expand the program.

WWU has a growing presence in Poulsbo on the Olympic College campus and could be a natural fit for students from Kitsap attending the Bellingham campus looking for an internship close to home, especially as the state Legislature is funding a study to scout locations for a second Western campus.

“We’re already defining ourselves as an emerging college town,” councilor Ed Stern said. “The Legislature is also seeing the peninsulas as the largest undserserved baccalauerate population in the state.”

The program is adaptable to meet the needs of each specific community, MacDonald said. Municipalities generally enter into one-year agreements with the university, though multi-year contracts are an option as well. Students tend to work for one semester, but again, special circumstances can dictate otherwise. MacDonald noted that a student took three courses during a one-year period that were all related to one particular project.

Once there is an agreement in place, the city is free to compile a list of projects it has been trying to get done and MacDonald will connect them with the right faculty and students to create the partnership. Students can work a maximum of 19 hours per week and most tend to work between 10 and 15 hours.

“It’s not really dreaming up new projects,” MacDonald said. “It’s looking at projects already on the list and saying, ‘How can we get this done?’”

— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at