Emily Tapia has been a Congressional page, worked as an intern in former Congressman Bill Lipinski’s Capitol Hill office during her sophomore year in college, and did an internship in Chicago’s City Hall. Yet the dynamic 25 year old student of urban planning says that in some ways her recent six month experience as an intern at village hall in Forest Park has been one of her best experiences.
“I’ve worked in City Hall in Chicago and while I loved that experience and thought it was fast paced and high energy, in Forest Park I seem to have gotten more of a hands on type of experience,” said Tapia who is enrolled in the masters program at UIC’s school of urban planning and policy.
“A lot of my colleagues have had different types of internships where it is typical to make copies, get the coffee, and do that sort of thing. I feel I’ve been treated as a professional in Forest Park. I’ve had a real opportunity to meet with a lot of business owners and get a feel for what the real issues are in the village. The real hands on experience; that’s been invaluable.”
Tapia is believed to be the first intern in Forest Park village government. It came about somewhat by chance.
Village Administrator Michael Sturino is part of a mentorship program sponsored by the American Planning Association that links graduate students in the field with professional planners. Last fall, Tapia was flipping through a book at UIC with profiles of “mentors.” The mentors advise students about which courses to take, internships, and help with networking and career choices.
She was intrigued that Sturino was a lawyer in addition to being a professional planner and also was interested in some of the projects that Sturino was working on such as the development of a separate downtown business district as part of the zoning code.
While in college at Loyola, Tapia, a native of the southwest side of Chicago who now lives in Humboldt Park with her husband, worked for two summers for State Farm in Forest Park, but she didn’t know very much about the community.
She contacted Sturino and they met for breakfast in Chicago in October.
“Emily chose me,” said Sturino. “We met and really hit it off.” Sturino took Tapia out to Forest Park and showed her around.
Sturino sensed her energy and ability and recognized that he could use some help with the downtown business district and other projects. So since December Tapia has spending each Friday and the occasional Tuesday or other weekday working in Forest Park working under the direction of Sturino.
In addition to work on the downtown business district text amendment to the zoning code, Tapia also developed a questionnaire and conducted a survey of downtown business owners to determine parking needs on Madison Street. She also researched and worked on ways to encourage recycling on Madison Street. She came up with ideas to combine public art with recycling such as the possibility of a sculpture of a three to four foot high Coke bottle with a hole in it to collect for empty bottles. She wrote a grant proposal to fund the project, but the grant proposal was not approved.
But that’s the kind of creative thinking she brought to a sometimes sleepy Village Hall.
She is bursting with energy and ideas.
Some at Village Hall didn’t quite know what to make of this dynamic young cosmopolitan, well traveled, bilingual woman in their midst.
“Someone in the office said ‘what are you working on again?'” recalled Tapia. But Tapia said administrative assistant Sally Cody and others always made her feel welcome. She spent much of her time working in the commissioners’ office that was usually vacant during the day.
Tapia developed PowerPoint presentations and made more use of modern technology than is often the case in Village Hall.
After working on Capitol Hill in Washington and at Chicago’s City Hall, the close knit, small town atmosphere in Forrest Park was a little bit strange for Tapia.
“It’s different.” said Tapia. “I’m always surprised by how everybody knows everybody.”
While she worked mostly under the direction of Sturino she did work with others, including zoning consultant JoEllen Charlton.
“It’s always good to see females in planning,” said Tapia. “It’s a very male dominated type of profession.”
For Tapia, who studied architecture at Chicago’s Whitney Young Magnet High School, urban planning is a perfect way to combine her interests in design and politics and policy.
This summer Tapia, the daughter of immigrants from Mexico, will work for the CTA in the office of governmental affairs.
She was recently awarded a Diversifying Faculty in Illinois fellowship worth $12,000 to $17,000 a year. This fellowship, awarded by the state, is designed to encourage individuals from underrepresented groups to seek careers in college teaching and administration.
Before going back to school for her master’s degree, she spent two years working with Junior Achievement of Chicago as their Latino Outreach Operations Manager.
Tapia, who will complete her master’s program next May, is now considering going on for a PhD. She hasn’t yet decided if she wants to work in government or have an academic career.
A future in politics is also something Tapia has thought about.
“I have always considered running for office,” Tapia wrote in a recent email. “Maybe not in the near future but it is definitely something that has been in the back of my mind throughout my journey. You never know, but it is tempting.”
Whatever she decides Sturino is confident she will be success.
“I think she’s going to go really far,” said Sturino. “She has a real knack for connecting with people.”