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The Difference an Internship Makes

internship
Magnolia Justice
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Published on March 26, 2015

I was clueless about why I needed an internship to finish my professional writing degree. I mean, I got that an internship would provide a space for me to learn how to apply all the concepts, theories and practices I was learning, but what I didn’t know was how vital taking on a internship would be, not just for my field but for any and every field. More than anything, it seemed oppressively time-consuming and arbitrary to my writing degree. Though it was a required component of my degree, it was probably the most beneficial (excluding the cumulative classes that ground education).

I had no intention of behaving like some stereotypical, brainless sorority member looking for an easy internship where I could be paid to essentially act like the office Barbie. I was more honed in on scholarship and reaching my full potential as a writer and collaborator, having been a senior executive member for the campus arts and honors college journals and a member of many other clubs. I also was on the directing boards of many of these organizations. Having excelled in nearly every academic endeavor since kindergarten, I was ambitious, in light of my disinterest in an internship, recognizing that I didn’t fit the student affairs persona.

So, as an introvert without a car, I had to look on campus to find which offices and departments would be open to hosting an intern for a semester. That aspect was essentially the easiest part, because as I was very involved in campus extracurriculars and departmental student initiatives, I could just turn to a few of my favorite student affairs personnel and ask if they would permit me to join the team and help around the office for a couple months. The downside of working on campus meant that it would almost surely be unpaid, as most of the budget had already been allotted to graduate assistants and other departmental endeavors. Regardless, seeing as I had limited means to find a campus internship, I was on a mission to find one that I would enjoy and that was relevant to my degree.

I wound up in the Intercultural Affairs office (ICA), and having already attended or aided organization of ICA events, I emailed the Assistant Director of Resources about whether she could use some help on any new projects. While she tentatively agreed, she referred me to the office director for approval, and he formally interviewed me, in spite of our previous friendly cooperation throughout the prior two years of my office involvement.

There should be a note here about e-mail etiquette: It is very important to maintain professionalism and give off a positive, confident air about yourself when inquiring after a job, even just an internship. Employers want professionally-minded workers who can provide services to them while representing and maintaining the office or department’s image.

For instance, during the interview, I wore interview-appropriate attire and held myself calmly and confidently. I was prepared by presenting previous projects I succeeded in constructing, like team papers, my own website (I showed design and organizational drafts that led to the final product.), and examples of handouts and brochures that I had created for my job at the time with the tutoring center. When asked to describe how my interests in social justice, diversity and other multicultural affairs were a good fit for my professional writing internship requirement, I was prepared to explain by giving accounts of past papers and articles I had written with content on diversity or social justice and LGBT current events. I described my opinions about the versatility of professional writing and voiced that I may as well write about topics that allow me to explore my passion. With my previous experience supporting ICA office productions and advocacy, it was the perfect fit for me.

My internship began the next semester, my last semester in college. I was managing many different responsibilities: from coordinating with the office’s administrative support associate by working with staff on calendars by scheduling events to developing outreach and advocacy through designing flyers and publicizing through social media to managing documents and press releases in time for deadlines. Sometimes, I also handled weekly meeting minutes, accepted and answered office calls and met with other campus department representatives like branding and design to enhance the new office brochures. Additionally, I authored an in-house style manual to dictate all office documentation that conformed to campus APA and SACS accreditation citation styles, edited and rewrote the campus Safe Zone guide with the office graduate assistant, created a quarterly newsletter layout and print plan that went into effect the next quarter, coordinated with students on beginning an annual student-run ICA-supported arts journal that was published the next semester, attended monthly meetings with the director for one-on-one time, engaged in all open staff e-mail discussions, managed my work hours’ log and time sheet and aided in the organization of all ICA events.

In addition, I would often e-mail my supervisor ideas for enacting new ICA-hosted events and engaging ICA-familiar students in activities around campus like a Service Learning help-the-homeless project or attending a Business lecture given by a visiting professor Emeritus. I loved interacting on campus in multiple capacities and reaching out to classrooms by visiting and giving away ICA “swag,” like wristbands or pens, advocating for ICA’s many causes by being a dependable office representative and opening up the floor after many events to help facilitate and promote meaningful discussions with my supervisor. The office staff were all very helpful and resourceful, and upon graduation, despite my previous notions of studying intercultural communications and finding a job in that field, I realized I belonged in Student Affairs (yes, even as an introvert).

I recently attained a graduate assistantship in LGBTQIA+ affairs in a multicultural affairs office at my new university where I’m seeking my Master’s degree in higher education administration, and—you guessed it!—my internship is the primary reason I was able to attain my assistantship and earn placement in my cohort!

In conclusion, no matter your field or current opinions about how helpful an internship may be for your future career, an internship is an excellent opportunity to get a taste of the work you intend to do (and you don’t have to be a student or even a prospective student to find one!). Be choosy in finding your fit—I recommend seeking placement in a department, office or company that shares your values and goals. Mostly, don’t be afraid to find something new! Whether or not it is required doesn’t matter; what matters is your fervor for your work and how much effort you’re willing to pour into a valuable experience! I hope my recapped experience has helped get the wheels turning toward your next occupational enterprise, and happy hunting!

Magnolia Justice

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