It has now been one week since I left my internship in D.C., and now that I have had a few days to think about my experiences between all of the traveling, unpacking, and repacking for school, I realize that this summer was easily the best one during college yet. I learned a ton about myself and about what I want for my career and work-life balance moving forward as well as learning the more concrete skills that accompany working for a nonprofit. Thinking back to my personal plan paper, my site contribution paper, and my learning contract, it is impressive to me that I was actually able to learn most of the lessons I set out for myself. I want to take a look back at each of these three and reflect more on how I accomplished these learning objectives and how my leadership studies helped me at my internship site.
First, going back to my personal plan paper, I set three learning goals for myself during my internship search. I wanted to hone my professional writing skills, learn how to better interact with legal problems, and better myself in how I interact with clients. I wanted to hone my professional writing skills because, firstly, writing is always a strong skill to have; and second, because of my work in Richmond writing website articles on legal topics, I need to master the light, professional, and friendly tone. The third reason that I wanted to work on my professional writing skills over the summer was that in law school it is necessary to be able to learn about a topic quickly and then write about it authoritatively. Any practice I can gain in doing that type of writing will be helpful to prepare me for what is to come after graduation.
So, to work on my writing at my internship site I was exposed to a wide array of writing styles and topics. I was responsible for writing fact sheets on different topics, most notable the S-400 missile defense system and F-35 fighter jet program crisis between the United States and Turkey. Writing fact sheets on delicate topics such as the S-400s was a challenge that I had never encountered before because my internship site is a 501c3 non-profit, meaning that we must maintain bipartisanship at all times. So my biggest problem was how to write about Turkey messing with our foreign policy and disrupting NATO while also being non-partisan and non-accusatory. I also wrote brochures, biographies, summaries of events, press releases and news blurbs. By the end of the summer, my supervisor did not have to check my writing before publication. In my final interview with my executive director last week to discuss how the entire summer went, one of the key pieces of feedback he gave me was of how strong of a writer I am and how that made their lives so much easier. I felt accomplished knowing that I had been able to adapt my writing style to whatever they needed, and I felt much more comfortable in my own abilities to write on anything in any form they could ask of me.
The second goal I set for myself in my personal plan paper was to learn how to better interact with legal problems. I set this goal for myself because I wanted to practice the type of thinking that I will be doing for the next three years following graduation. Initially, I wanted to be directly involved in anything having to do with law or the legal profession when I was beginning my internship search, but that proved easier said than done. I think at the heart of what I was getting at with this goal, though, was that I wanted to learn how to think of problems and solutions in a way that I had not already encountered so far in my education.
I certainly found a new way to approach problems when I was working at my internship site. The culmination of this was when my internship site asked me to moderate one of their events in mid-July. I was so excited to be given the opportunity, but I was hesitant because the types of events and conversations we have present a unique challenge. The challenge is to find a way to talk about the tense topics around the U.S.- Turkey relationship without taking a side but maintaining a hard enough stance so to not damage our reputation as an organization. My internship site did not want to be viewed as a group without a backbone or as one that supports some of the atrocities going on in Turkey. My biggest obstacle to this was to toe that delicate line as a newcomer, someone who has no real background in these issues and does not know all of the nuances. I was able to get my feet wet with these problems from the very beginning of my internship and by the time I was moderating our event I felt confident in fielding questions to keep the conversation on track. For me, it was about figuring out the right questions to ask in the right way so that I could get the opinions I wanted the speakers to share without getting my organization in hot water. This required me to think outside of the box and to approach the problem differently than I had done before.
The third skill that I mentioned in my personal plan paper was that I wanted to understand the world of client relations better. It will be important in my future that I can talk to clients in a manner that makes them feel safe and comfortable while also maintaining a level of professionalism and well-read on the subject at hand. While I was writing my personal plan paper I think that I figured my development of this skill would come from networking and potential clients from an internship. In the end, my internship did not have many opportunities to interact with a “client,” but rather in our outreach. At my internship site, I worked tirelessly to gain a larger following for our cause. This meant that I needed to be able to give an elevator pitch about my organization right away and be able to break down each component I mentioned if necessary. I quickly learned that creating an elevator pitch for an organization that you have only just begun working for is difficult and requires you to be in the know about all of the ongoing and past projects. After a short period of growing pains, I was able to implement a system at my internship site where we all reported on what we were working on so that everyone could create the best pitch for outreach.
Thankfully, most of the goals I set for myself in my personal plan paper, I was able to find a type of similar task when explaining the tasks that I would be required to do at my internship site. In addition to the goals laid out in my personal plan paper and my site contribution paper, I also learned how the management of a nonprofit and event organization worked, as stated in my learning contract.
In my internship site contribution paper, I noted that I was going to be working on my research skills, making connections, and working on my professionalism as a whole at my first office job. Throughout my internship, one of my main priorities was to research current events, big issue areas, and the players involved. My research was used in fact sheets (as mentioned above), in the news that my organization shared on their platforms, and even in preparing my supervisors so television interviews. It was my responsibility to make certain that my team was known and well prepared for any questions they might be asked.
Additionally, throughout my summer I was asked to attend different events around the D.C. area to make connections both for myself and for my organization. These connections translated into a way for me to learn how to interact with people from all walks of life when we have a common subject in common, in my case, it was an interest in foreign policy. It was as close as possible to actually engaging with a client base. Along with several congressmen and women and different military officials, I was able to meet some incredibly interesting people, such as Patrick Brunsen after he testified before the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Reflecting on my internship now, I know that I definitely made the connections that I was hoping to make. Thirdly, as I reflect on my internship experience, one of the biggest skills that I learned was how to be professional. There was one particular intern in the office that challenged me to develop this skill, we had severe differences and at times he was a little hostile. Maintaining a working relationship and attitude with this intern despite everything he did was certainly a test of my abilities in professionalism.
Throughout my internship, my leadership experience influenced most of the ways that I approached almost everything that I was doing. Specifically, I think a ton of the gender and leadership studies we learn in Jepson helped me to understand why some people acted the way that they did. I also found that a lot of the social theories from Theories and Models showed themselves pretty often. I was better able to anticipate how the people in my workplace were going to think about issues and act to solve them, and I was able to better engage with them because I had a better working knowledge of where they might be coming from. For example, the men on my office floor were friends with essentially everyone else, frequently moving from office to office to stop and chat with one another, whereas women were more likely to be found in pairs. This goes back to men tending toward building larger coalitions and women being more prone to building those one-on-one relationships. I also noticed that the supervisors in the office set the tone for everything else that happened. For example, if on a Tuesday one of my supervisors wore jeans, by the end of the week everyone else had also worn jeans at least once (which is significant since our office dress code was business professional at all times).
The most impactful way leadership studies influenced my summer was in my ability to assess my leaders. I was fortunate enough to work under several strong and motivated leaders, and seeing good leadership made me want to work even harder to accomplish our group goals.