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When Stephanie Gonzalez and Brice Burror Wildemuth began their DLBA internships at the start of 2020, each had a firm idea of what to expect. Neither anticipated the challenges  Downtown Long Beach would soon be facing, or the roles they would play in addressing them.

Gonzalez, who holds a degree in Urban Planning, was set to work with DLBA Placemaking Manager Mariah Hoffman and learn the practical elements of urban placemaking: who is involved, how data is studied, and how projects are implemented. Wildemuth, an Economics student at California State University, Long Beach, was looking forward to working closely with DLBA Economic Development and Policy Manager Austin Metoyer to get a boots-on-the-ground view of economic development in Downtown.

Stephanie Gonzalez and Brice Burror Wildemuth

When Governor Gavin Newsom issued the stay-at-home order in mid-March, the interns were faced with an abruptly altered task list and a completely new way of communicating. Mentoring via conference call was new for Hoffman and Metoyer as well. The interns had been working independently, but were pressed into a joint effort, making hundreds of outreach calls to Downtown businesses. The calls were a means to inform business owners and to gather data, but they were also often emotional.

“Stephanie and Brice could hear the stress in peoples’ voices,” said Metoyer. “They were a source of comfort while providing resources. Both stepped up very well.”

Gonzalez has gained a deeper knowledge of placemaking under Hoffman’s tutelage, and is grateful for the chance to sit in on Public Realm Committee meetings. “There are a lot of really great people on the committee with a range of backgrounds and the common desire to make Downtown a better place,” she said.

“Austin has really helped me apply economic theory to the outside world,” said Wildemuth, “and the public health crisis enabled me to be in direct contact with businesses, providing me with a greater depth of understanding.”

Gonzalez hopes to gain experience in the planning industry and be part of the creation of a post-COVID 19 city. “I’m really open to what that will look like,” she said. Wildemuth told us he is looking to apply his economics knowledge to climate change policy, “working to help fund the right projects and innovations so that a zero-emission future is achieved as soon as possible.”

Whatever the future holds for Gonzalez and Wildemuth, they have surely gained plenty of unexpected knowledge and experience during their DLBA internship.

“Our interns quickly adapted to new tasks that became really critical,” said Hoffman. “We are very grateful for that.”