Final Reflection: A truly inspiring industry

I find it hard to believe that it is already August. Summer is winding down, and it is getting to be time to start thinking about the upcoming school year. With the end of summer comes the end of my internship, a bittersweet occasion. While I am eager to enjoy the remainder of August and begin preparing for the fall semester, I do believe I will miss the meaningful work and kind people at Voices of September 11th. The past 11 weeks have been a remarkable learning and growing experience for me, and I will now take a moment to reflect on my time as a communications intern at a nonprofit organization.

At the beginning of the summer, I was both eager and a little bit apprehensive about beginning my internship. I worried about not liking the industry or the people, or wasting my summer away trapped in a cold, fluorescent office. I wondered about how I would make my mark on the organization, and how it would help me in the long run. As is the case in any significant starting point, I simply deliberated about what was to come.

On May 21st, I walked into the quaint New Canaan office for the first time, and my apprehensions were quickly assuaged.  I was greeted by a room full of friendly faces, excited about our arrival, along with a carefully planned out orientation day, complete with a complimentary pizza lunch. What’s not to like? As we familiarized ourselves with the office environment, the people that comprise it, the functionality of the organization, and all the tools and projects that make it happen, I became more and more excited about my summer plans. I bonded with the other interns and got right to work.

In my personal plan paper, I made specific reference to my hope for a productive and engaging internship experience. I wished for work that would be intellectually stimulating and also enjoyable. I loathed the idea of sitting in an office all day, so if I was going to be doing just that for the summer, it had better be worthwhile and gratifying. Of course, given the nature of internships, there were times when work was tedious, monotonous, and largely unfulfilling. This would include the days where we simply put data into an excel sheet or had to call a list of hundreds of individuals asking for updated contact information, many who were not all that pleasant. Some days there simply was not enough work for us to do, which made for unproductive episodes of constantly refreshing my email, which never had anything new or interesting to look at. Luckily, though, such days were limited in number.  

The majority of the internship, however, was dynamic and productive, which made for a positive experience overall. Firstly, I think the nature of the organization in itself played a great role in making this a meaningful experience. I have gained an incredible amount of respect and admiration for nonprofit organizations, and especially those that work for them. It is certainly not the highest paying industry, not even close, but it does pay to have a real, tangible impact on society. The goals and objectives of Voices of September 11th are so selfless and so beneficial to the outside community. Obviously, the organization makes no profit on its own, but rather relies on outside donations and funding to follow through with such important work. The people we serve are so appreciative of our work, and it is so gratifying to see such an impact, and to hear from others how thankful they are for our services and support. There have been countless instances of people telling me how important and helpful the work here is, and how they have admiration for my choice to intern at such a company.  Quite honestly, I have been surprised by such praise. Going in, while I acknowledged the altruistic and community-serving nature of the organization, I had no idea people would be so grateful for the work we do. This has been one of the most significant aspects of this internship program. I can really see and understand the impact my work has on others. Earlier on, before starting the internship, I had stated that inspirational work was important to me, something that I would strive for. As a Leadership Studies major, we are constantly taking measures to foster a strong moral compass, working to understand what it means to be both an effective and ethical leader. Given this background, I was determined to find an internship where I could put such skills into practice. Working at Voices of September 11th, I have been able to implement this kind of moral leadership and expand upon it throughout the summer. Now, at the other end of the internship, I can say with confidence that I participated in a meaningful internship, one that allowed me to apply the skills I learned in various leadership courses and give back to the community every day. 

Also contributing to my enjoyment of this internship was the variety of work I was given. As I have mentioned in my blog posts, the interns here are given several projects to complete throughout our time, each one capitalizing on a different skills set or domain within the organization. At the beginning of the internship, the majority of my work was very communications-oriented, and also very individual. At that point, I did not interact all that much with the other interns, which was disappointing, but this phase was short-lived, and I was generally occupied with work.  During these few weeks, I created a social media calendar for 2020, wrote and edited a few newsletters and articles, picked out quotes and images for the Instagram account, and proofread a variety of written content created by the staff members. During this time, I was able to implement and strengthen the written communication skills I have acquired in my Leadership, English, and French classes. I believe I contributed positively to these assignments, and also gained a greater understanding of how my written communication skills can be applied in the workplace.

The middle few weeks of the internship were a bit dull, as we were in a transition phase to beginning our video project, which I make several references to in my blog posts. These weeks were occupied by a project which involved putting copious amounts of media contacts into an excel sheet and performing research on this data. I do not feel as if I gained much from this project, but I can say I became better acquainted with Excel, a goal which I outlined in my personal plan paper and my learning contract. I was able to utilize and build upon the skills I acquired from the tutorial in internship class. Even though this was not a particularly fulfilling project, it did address a longstanding objective of mine.

Lastly, and most importantly, as I reflect back on my summer internship, the part that resonates most with me is the video project, which occupied the final few weeks in the office. This project was by far and away the most enjoyable and most profitable. I feel that my internship was an extremely worthwhile experience, thanks to my participation in this project. As I have described in several of my blog posts, this project involved scheduling and conducting interviews (in person and Skype) with members of the 9/11 community – survivors, responders, and family members – to use for a promotional video to be featured at an annual gala that the organization holds in September. We worked in collaboration with a professional filmmaker, so we were in charge with everything up to the actual assembling of the video. That being said, we had a variety of responsibilities in order to make this a success. We needed to decide who we wanted to interview, reach out via phone or email, maintain this correspondence, craft a list of meaningful questions to ask participants, altering them slightly each time to cater to specific backgrounds or personalities, travel to New York City several times to conduct the interviews with a professional camera, Skype those that were not local, transcribe all the interviews, pick out significant quotes to be featured, and ultimately create a storyboard with all of this information to aid in the filmmaker’s creative process. Given the dynamic nature of the project, I was able to learn a lot and put a variety of skills to use. Firstly, the project relied heavily on productive collaboration. During this time, all of the interns began spending much more time together, fostering strong relationships and allowing for creative discussions and ideas to form. Not only was it more enjoyable to be engaging with others, but our work was strengthened by such a range of opinions. Thus, this project emphasized the power of collaboration and group dynamic, something that is paramount to the Jepson curriculum. There is no shortage of group work in Leadership classes, whether it is group presentations or discussions, and I was able to bring the knowledge I gained from such activity to this project. I was really struck by how important it is to be able to interact positively with others within the workplace, and I now am even more appreciative of the Leadership curriculum’s ability to bring that to light. 

This project also taught me the importance of time management. Before really diving in, all of the interns met to outline a few significant dates and create a timeline for the development of the project. This helped us to stay on track throughout the trajectory of the project. We had to complete a lot of different tasks in a rather short amount of time, so having this timeline set up helped immensely. In particular, we had to respond to a multitude of emails. In order to conquer this task ,we split up all the emails and were able to get to all of them much quicker than we anticipated. We also had to schedule more than thirty interviews over a period of three weeks. This meant we had to work carefully and quickly not to overlap on dates and times, and to ensure we had enough time in between to prepare for each one. Ultimately, we had corresponded with each interview participant and created a clear schedule for the progression of the project, all within our allotted time frame.  Time management is one of the most important skills to have, not just in the workplace, but for life. I have learned to manage my time in school, making sure to complete all my work, and balance this with extracurricular activities and social events. I have been able to expand on this skill with the progression of this project and with this job more generally, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to do so. 

Thus, my summer internship at Voices of September 11th has allowed me to learn and grow in countless ways. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to get a taste of the professional world, and see where I fit into it. Working in collaboration with others and in individual projects has allowed me to apply a variety of skills accumulated in Leadership courses and beyond, and to expand upon this ever-growing repertoire. I am eager to see how such an experience, and the skills that I take from it, will impact and enhance both the remainder of my time in the Leadership course of study and ultimately my transition into the real world.