What is in common between on campus work and off campus internship experiences?
By Jessica Levine UA ’17, ’19 and Jim Stellar
I got to know Jessica when she was turning from an UAlbany undergraduate in Political Science and Government to a graduate student in the Master’s Degree program in Political Communication. I had known her also in her work as a UAlbany Purple and Gold Ambassador for the Alumni Association. She is working this summer as a summer intern in the Albany New York Office of US Senator Charles Schumer as the latest in a series of off campus internships (e.g. NY State Assembly) and jobs on campus (e.g. graduate assistant in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life in the Office of Student Involvement). We agreed here to talk about her experiences in both on and off campus work experiences and compare them for growth potential for undergraduates who are building toward their success after graduation.
Can you start us off by explaining what is the Purple and Gold Ambassador program and what impact it had on you?
The Purple and Gold Student Ambassadors are a group of students that go to several different events to represent the student body at UAlbany. These events include networking events and high profile university events. Being a Purple and Gold Ambassador has been one of the best and most rewarding experiences. It has taught me how to network and have conversations with people from different backgrounds. It has also given me the confidence to speak in front of large groups of people. One of the most valuable things I got from my three years as an ambassador are my mentors. They have helped guide me through decisions about graduate school and my career. This program prepared me for what to expect after college by hearing the stories of all of the alumni and people I met. It gave me the necessary skills I need to be successful in the real world. Becoming a Purple and Gold Ambassador was one the best parts of my college career.
Thanks. Now let’s contrast that experience with your work off campus in two different political internships, one in the NY Assembly and the other in the office of US Senator Schumer.
My experience as an ambassador most definitely helped me during my time at the NYS Assembly with Assemblyman Zebrowski and is helping during my time with the Albany office of Senator Schumer. During my time as an ambassador, I learned how to act in a professional setting. This helped me with interacting with people who came into the office as well as when interacting with different members of government. But being an ambassador is quite different to being in the real world. One of the main skills I acquired as an ambassador is networking and while networking is and was an important part of both internships there was so much more to it. I had to ask myself, how can apply what I learned as an ambassador to both internships? I found the communication and professionalism skills have been the most valuable. While the experiences were very different I was able to use one to help the other.
There is clearly something in common between these experiences and that is your interaction with the group. You have a lot of experience with groups as a human being in her 20s, e.g. you came from a family, attended a high school, etc. What makes these two group experiences different? Is it that you are now on the edge of launching your post-education career or is there more?
I have always loved being involved and a part of a group, each one has helped shape me to become the person I am today. I have been very fortunate in that most of the groups I have been involved in have taught me valuable life lessons that have taken with me throughout my life. I think the biggest difference between both internships and my time as an ambassador is that one prepared me for the other. Being an ambassador helped shape who I am as a professional. I think I got a lot more out of my internships because of the skills I gained from being an ambassador. I think the experience of being involved in both groups will most definitely help me in my post education career as collaboration is a key skill.
Now let’s talk about how these two experiences helped you with the facts and theories you were learning in your classes. Did they? Also, how did interacting with mentors help you and how does that contrast with the group dynamics discussed above.
One thing I loved about both internships is that I was able to apply what I have learned in the classroom to real life. Last semester, I took a course about leadership communication and I was able to use the theories I was learning in the classroom at my job. One of these theories is the Competing Values Framework, which helps identify skills and leadership roles within organizations. For me, that is definitely one the most exciting things about doing different internships and jobs. It is such a great feeling to actually apply concepts we have been learning for so long.
My mentors have been such an important part of my life, especially over the past two years. Working with a mentor is different than with a group because the focus is more catered to the relationship between you and your mentor. In a group, there might be a leader/mentor but their focus is on the group and not just on you. For me, the time I have spent with my mentors has helped shape me as a person and guide my career decisions. Without one of my mentors, I would not have heard about my masters program. While I might get that from the experience of being in a group, it is different when it is coming from one person.
One of the factors that we see at work in the above interchange is what some have called the “secret signals that pass between faces” or in other words, nonverbal communication. We believe that this form of communication touches more directly what people call the “heart” but which is really a powerful network of computational brain circuits just below the level of conscious awareness and therefore not well represented by the “facts and theories” form of classical information transfer from a professor to many students in a class. It is not until you get into a discussion group or join an organization committed to a purpose or go to work in an internship, that you get to really exercise those brain circuits and road-test the ideas you have about yourself and your college fields of study against what you might do with the rest of your life. That is why internships are so important and why we in higher education must work hard to provide them and other such experiences beyond the classroom (e.g. study abroad, undergraduate research, …).
One of the lines from this blog that most affected us was when JL wrote “I have always loved being involved and a part of a group.” The group dynamic is, maybe, why we have these facial signals of which we tend to be unaware but which can bond us together. The theory is that in evolution the group was strong in helping us humans respond. The authenticity of a Purple and Gold Ambassador group or and the same on the internship site, particularly when others are interested, like when working in a famous politician’s office, create a power to affect the student. That power can be used by the student and the university to make them grow intellectually and personally.
The big trick is to figure out with the students how to connect these two kinds of experiences. Maybe that is why we keep writing this blog.