What it Means to Find a Meaningful Internship


Images courtesy of The American Horse Council and Pathfinder International

Fiona Flaherty, Copy Editor

There seems to be a misconception among many APS students that all high school internships are a grueling two-week period of running around an office making copies, doing coffee runs and taking notes during staff meanings. In many cases, that happens to be the reality. But is that just the nature of the beast, or is it a result of the fact that you did not know how to find a meaningful, interesting high school internship? Or even more unfortunately, that high school interns do not know what ‘meaningful’ really means?

During the summer of 2018, I participated in two internships. The first was with the American Horse Council, the advocacy group for the equine industry on Capitol Hill. The second was with Pathfinder International, an organization which develops women’s reproductive and sexual health programs and rights around the globe. In both cases there were some copy runs, but by communicating and being a self-advocate, I was able to do work that was meaningful and educational in addition to being helpful.

Meaning depends on the nature of the internship. Part of the problem is that many students either do not know how to do the research to find work or utilize the connections they have to find a meaningful internship.

My first internship was found through research. Many students may not even know how to begin to look, which convinces them to jump on the first internship they see. But beginning to search and finding the right internship is easier than you think; it all starts with something you are passionate about. When I was looking for my first internship, I knew that I was passionate about horses and wanted to understand the advocacy process. Both having a goal in mind and being interested in the field of work you will be doing makes it less likely that the work you find will be trivial. Doing research about and within an internship will also help you along the college lines; you will have a broader tool belt of resources and know how and where to look for things to find the answers you want. Also note that combining what you are passionate about with what you are good at will likely develop into a meaningful experience. This will give you an opportunity to showcase your skills and develop them in a semi-professional setting.

My second internship was found via personal connection. In Arlington, it is hard to believe that there is not someone that you know who works for the Peace Corps, Department of Agriculture or some other really cool organization in the D.C. area. You have to be willing to reach out, and most importantly, to be a self-advocate. This process may be uncomfortable and awkward, but getting over that threshold is critical to finding interesting work. If you are passionate about the work an organization is doing, let them know! If your friend’s mom works for the NRA and you are interested in learning about the lobbying process, ask if you can talk! Making a connection will get your foot in the door.

After you have done some research and relationship-building, you then apply for the internship and are accepted. Congratulations! But be warned; Completing a meaningful internship is different than just finding one online. During the first few days, you should get the lay of the land by getting to know the staff and getting a feel for what you will be doing. Once you figure it out, then you can start creating meaning by brainstorming with the people you are working most closely with and maintaining an open line of communication. Given, you will have to do coffee run-ish things, but the power of being a self-advocate will get you very far in the world of high school internships. If your passion is evident and your reasoning strong, you will appear confident and will be more likely to end up doing something that is productive, educational and interesting.

As a communications intern, I wrote extensively and created media on a daily basis: memos on various pieces of legislation, notes on Senate hearings and markups, ghostwritten cover letters, research for social media and video interviews of staff. Many of these activities came about because I made suggestions, brainstormed, did research and thought proactively about what would be both educational and interesting for me in addition to being something that the organization needed. Trying to find the balance between education, passion, productivity and organizational necessity is where meaning can be found.

In the end, it is the intern, not the internship that ends up crafting the experience. By being a self advocate, exploring connections, stepping outside your comfort zone, having a purpose and knowing what you want to get out of it will make a meaningful internship experience. At the same time understanding that sometimes you will have limits,Whether you want to get a writing sample out of it, a piece for your portfolio or solid letter of recommendation, there should always be a goal and a purpose to an internship.