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This is how you intern: Tech student Jesús Ballesteros helps build powerful community tool for browsing the budget

WVU Tech student, Jesus Ballesteros

WVU Tech student Jesús Ballesteros came to Tech from Barcelona, Spain to chase his love of computers. These days, the double major in computer science and computer engineering is wrapping up his junior year. He’s active on campus and a member of the university’s swim team. He’s also spending his free time putting his skills to work in a very unique way.

Last spring, Ballesteros landed an internship with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy in Charleston. It’s a nonprofit, nonpartisan tax and budget research organization that focuses on how state, local and federal policies impact low-income and working-class families. The Center isn’t the likeliest place for computer science student to land, but the organization had a critical project in the works.

“We had this idea that we wanted to have an interactive webpage with all the different kinds of budget data in it, so we approached Tech and asked if they had any students who could put something together for us,” said Sean O’Leary, senior policy analyst at the CBP.

WVU Tech professors knew the right person for the job. Ballesteros jumped at the opportunity and got started on the project in earnest during the summer, working directly with O’Leary to write code and figure out how to create a user-friendly and interactive website. During the process, he conducted research, learned new coding techniques and explored how different parts of the budget work and interact with one another. Ballesteros was most excited about the prospect that his work would be beneficial to the greater community.

“The goal for the project was designing and implementing a state budget browser, allowing citizens to get information of how tax dollars are spent in West Virginia,” he said.

The final project is called the West Virginia Budget Browser. It’s an online tool that allows anyone to view and compare state budget data all the way back to 2005. Designed to give a wide range of views based on user interest, the browser provides everything from a “10,000-foot view” down to individual line items.

“It works to demystify the budget so that you can see the big-picture view of what the state spends its money on. Then, if you're really interested, we have it set up so you can drill all the way down into specific line items in the budget. If you have a particular program that you're interested in or if there's a particular agency that you want to track, you're able to do that,” said O’Leary.

Though maintained by the Center, the browser is hosted by the Charleston Gazette-Mail in a partnership that aims to connect the browser directly to coverage of the state budget and related topics.

A real-world experience

Ballesteros’ situation is unique in its scope, but the overall internship experience is something the university is helping many students accomplish. Ballesteros worked directly with WVU Tech’s Career Services department to line up the job.

“All my paperwork was ready so I could start the internship on time, and they helped me with the entire process. I really appreciate how Career Services treated me and all the opportunities offered by organizing events such as JobFest every semester,” he said.

He said the internship was a great way to stay sharp outside of the classroom.

“The professional world is much wider, different and more challenging. Internships allow students to learn, experience and practice professionally before they graduate. Personally, I have learned a lot about public relationships, teamwork, communication and organization,” he said.

O’Leary agreed, putting value on the fact that interns are exposed to the working world.

“It gives them an opportunity to be exposed to the world of state policy, to really gain an understanding of why what happens at the legislature matters to them, their lives and their futures,” said O’Leary. “I think it was a very valuable experience for him to be the IT guy for us for a little bit – to be the one who had to explain what’s going on and why certain things work the way they do.”

Although Ballesteros completed the internship over the summer, the Center still employs his services throughout the year to fine-tune and maintain the browser.

For more information on the browser, visit www.wvpolicy.org/west-virginia-budget-browser. Students interested in tackling internships of their own are encouraged to contact WVU Tech Career Services.