Communication  Field  Experience


 JUNE 04, Chevy Chase, MD - I begin my internship at American International Health Alliance (AIHA) later this week, June 06. I'll have a new employee orientation and then begin about my merry way.

My first internship was more of an unconventional situation but an experience that taught me a lot nonetheless. 


I applied to AIHA for the same reasons that most AU students would: I needed 1 single credit to fulfill an SOC (School of Communications) requirement and I was hoping to live in DC for the summer. So I applied. But I don't want you thinking I applied to only or even specifically to AIHA. Instead, I applied to dozens of internships.


I googled: "communications internships", "internships for environmental sustainability", "global health internships", and god only knows what else. 


I received an email on April 5 about filling out a questionnaire after I had submitted my application March 18. Within less than an hour (honestly, probably only 30 minutes), I had submitted the form and got another response. The Subject Line for this new email thread was "Next Step-Interview." 

I'm fairly certain I screamed. I get very excited about opportunities like this so there's no doubt that I screamed. My interview was set for April 9 at 1:00pm for the Communications Intern position. 

I came to the office about 45 minutes prior to the scheduled interview. There was a Starbucks in the same building as the office, so I bought a coffee to kill some time as well as my nerves. 


The interview took place as such: I had to complete a writing assignment in the office from 1-2pm and then I was to have an interview with the HR Manager and the Communications Director from 2-3pm. 


Well they must have gone splendidly if I got the position, right? Yeah, pretty much. The Comm Director and I really hit it off and I understood instantly what she was expecting from an intern. 

April 17th I was offered the position and June 4th I would start the job. 


"But wait, Katya, it's June 4th and you said you're starting the 6th?"


Yeah, we'll get to that in a moment. For now let me revel in the fact that I managed to score a paid internship at an International Development NGO specializing in global health and located right off Metro Center in downtown DC, across from the street of the Washington Post. 


My supervisor told me well in advance that she actually had a conference to attend June 4 and 5, making my first day to start June 6 (which is perfect because I'm currently in the middle of moving into my very first apartment in DC so you could say I'm already stressed, to begin with). 


Needless to say, I am absolutely thrilled about this position. Although I'm a journalism major, I understand the necessity of being introduced and have more than just a 'familiarity' with other communications skills (i.e. video editing, infographics, pr techniques, etc). I see this internship experience being useful to my future work life as well as my current one; this upcoming semester I am both the Editor-In-Chief of AWOL at AU as well as Marketing Chair for my sorority, Sigma Delta Tau. Having experience in digital media and marketing allows for me to learn more about general branding as well as practice other important such skills producing and editing content. 


Part iI - Experience

 JUNE 18, WASHINGTON DC - What I have come to realize is that being a "Communications" intern encompasses a variety of tasks that in actuality just mean handling the communication of the organization with others both internally and externally. 


While this may not be a shock or surprise to some, for me it was a matter of understanding that an internship doesn't have to be running for coffees or meaningless tasks but it can still be less than what you expect it to be (although, that is hardly what I think of AIHA thus far). 


So far, the specific task I have committed the most time to has been scheduling meetings with program directors and field staff to understand what each project is as well as have a better understanding of what everyone does in general. The scheduling of meetings has been a fairly easy task and even the meetings themselves have typically only last 30 minutes - an hour (max). And while this has all be fairly simple and to the point, the digestion of what to do with all the information has truly been the most time-consuming. I would go as far as to say the meetings and learning stages have only taken about 10% was setting up the meetings and going to them but then about 80% trying to figure out what to do with all that information. 


Arguably, what I have enjoyed the most is coming up with all the projects I would like to tackle this summer. My supervisor and I have compiled a detailed list of all the upcoming projects we would like to complete such as backlogging some older success stories for the organization as well as breaking down the terminology used into definition videos of what concepts mean for the organization. This ongoing list has been most enjoyable because it allows me to have some control over what I complete in this internship. 


As of right now, there has not been a task I did not enjoy because it has all been a learning process and trying to get situated in the rhythm of the organization. 


Another aspect of the internship that I have found particularly meaningful has been learning how to make infographics on behalf of the organization and repurposing information that already exists into different packages. I have been able to access a lot of resources and applications I have previously never used before such as Vengage and Infogram in creating graphics for AIHA closeout reports and social media. So far, I would say I have adequately learned a good amount about the organization as well as how to bring what I know to the table in a meaningful way. 


Part iII - Academics

 JULY 03, WASHINGTON DC - In all reality I believe that my prior coursework both overprepares me in certain aspects and underprepared me in others. For starters, I believe that the best thing most of my academic career has taught me is the importance of deadlines (either professionally or personally set). Although there have been several opportunities for me to just clock out straight at 5 PM and not really "care" about what I have been doing, I have decided to create personally set deadlines for certain projects instead of procrastinating until my supervisor asks for them. 


In specific regard to course material, I believe my COMM 420 class, Storytelling with Emerging Media with Jeremiah Patterson, had a huge impact in how I approach projects in a professional setting. This course was all about figuring out how to tell stories in an impactful way but also in a way that adheres to the story/content. In the case of the internship, I would argue that the way the stories are told is in light of the image of the organization. Therefore, I am able to creatively find ways to tell their stories online, on social media, or in press releases. 


Although in some cases I have been able to utilize the traditional journalistic methods of reporting and telling stories, I have had very little usage of the applications of true journalism in this internship. Arguably, I would say most of this position is PR-related rather than journalistically related. This, in turn, has widened my scope of knowledge in this specific field. I believe my courses have more than adequately prepared me for this internship since social media and other forms of emerging media have been the crux of most of my COMM classes regardless if they are electives or journalistically based. With the expansion of technology, it is almost impossible for journalism students to avoid any form of PR experience or work since even journalism takes a certain type of self-branding. 


Part iV - Career Planning

 JULY 16, WASHINGTON DC - The daunting thought of graduating in May of 2019 has been looming over me since the beginning of this summer. Whenever people ask, "What is your dream career?" I have a rehearsed answer prepared: "Ideally I would be a foreign correspondent or photojournalist for a news organization, covering environmental or global health issues and 'translating' academic reports or journals into simplified science news articles." 


This internship fed into this plan since AIHA is an international NGO dealing with issues of global health and in recent years particularly PEPFAR's goals towards HIV/AIDS in African countries. Since Sub-Saharan Africa is my regional concentration and environmental sustainability/global health my thematic area for my SIS major, having a Communications Internship with AIHA seemed to encompass the entirety of my interests. 


However, as noted in PART III of academics, the lack of journalistic qualities was ultimately my biggest qualm with the internship. Although I knew going into it, it was going to be a Communications Internship and not an Editorial one, it was much more all-encompassing communication work than editorial. So far, my supervisor and I have toyed with the idea of continuing into the fall but I am hesitant to continue one since I would much rather find editorial opportunities. 

Part V - Grievances 

 JULY 30, WASHINGTON DC - As far as the original agreements, nothing "new" or "surprising" has taken me by surprise or transpired in any capacity. There were no grand issues that occurred or unforeseen circumstances in regards to the workload, the unclear communication. I was paid the amount I figured I would be and the only small miscommunication was my initial paycheck since I started during a mid-pay period but that was quickly resolved.  Otherwise, I would say it all went smoothly.