As we wrap up our first year as MPA students, my classmates and I are preparing to enter what our program refers to as “the summer work experience” (aka internship). We will each be spending 400 hours over the summer months working at a governmental, nonprofit, or private organization, and leave behind papers and final exams with feelings of joy.
I have heard classmates rejoice over returning to a scheduled workday; as with some careers, being a student is not a job you leave at the office and nights and weekends are often extensions of the school day. Working full-time for pay also brings welcome relief for some of our bank accounts (hello, paycheck!).
Beyond these obvious benefits, I have been doing some reflecting lately on what is gained from doing a summer internship. Thinking back to my own first internship, an unpaid position at an Arts Council the summer after my sophomore year of college, I see that I was not only able to begin building office skills, but also to begin building the connections and experience that would lead me to other unpaid internships and paying positions.
While viewing my summer internship as a tool for networking and resume-building continues to be important, I also now appreciate the opportunities it gives me beyond that. When I first began doing internships, the sole work-related goal was to meet the agendas’ of the staff members, whether that meant designing workshops, assembling packets, or doing lots (and lots) of copying. This is as it should be, and will continue to be true for me this summer to a degree. However, I now feel I’m at the point where I will have some agency in designing work-related tasks around my own skill development goals. I know that it is up to me to be deliberate about articulating and advancing these goals, and making connections between them and what the agency hopes to do. Thus, as is true with many things in life, what I will gain from this experience is largely up to me and my initiative.
Katie O’Connor Sirakos