Internship Application Saga (part 2)

(Well readers, finishing up part 2 ended up taking longer than I anticipated, but at last, here it is. Read part 1, the entry below this one for the beginning of the story).

     So OnMilwaukee.com sort of fell through, but I didn’t panic too much yet because I hadn’t heard back from Reader’s Digest. There was still hope. But after submitting my application to Reader’s Digest, I got a follow-up e-mail asking for some additional information about the internship requirements for my school and if there was anything else they should know. That was when I decided it would probably be appropriate to mention that I was blind and explain the accommodations I would need. Shortly thereafter, a woman from Reader’s Digest called and told me that she wasn’t sure this internship would be appropriate for me because all of the content handled in that office was user submitted content involving hand written submissions or photos. Maybe they could find some things for me to do, but she feared I wouldn’t get a quality, robust internship experience. But she was exceptionally nice about it, saying she would forward my application to other people and see if they could find another position for me down the line. I know some of you blind readers are probably thinking I should have been more persistent, but I could tell by the tone of this lady that she was not one of those people who just didn’t want the bother of accommodating a blind person, but honestly believed that I wouldn’t get much out of an internship with them because there were a lot of visual components, and I appreciate honesty. So I have no hard feelings toward Reader’s Digest. But that meant I had to get back to the drawing board with even more determination.

     Another local online publication I found seemed perfect as they were looking for interns familiar with Investigative journalism which is code for “this magazine is about real news, not entertainment”. But then I read further down and discovered the application materials were due by March 31, a date that had passed already. In addition, the magazine would not accept the applications electronically and I didn’t want to go through the hassle of printing my applications and then having to ask a sighted person to make sure my pages were in order or that the printer ink didn’t smear or something, when the vast majority of places these days accept electronic submissions. My dad suggested I apply for an internship with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, our local newspaper where a whole bunch of my professors work, thus offering plenty of people I could use as references, or the Waukesha Freeman, a smaller paper where I did a mentorship program in high school. Well, the information I found about internships with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel indicated that applications were due back in December and the Waukesha Freeman wasn’t advertising that they were offering any internship programs. Thus an internship application process that started out as an exciting experience became a hopeless, frustrating and discouraging experience.

     There was one more ray of hope however. Perhaps to set the stage, I should rewind to the beginning of the semester. On the Friday the second week in to the semester, just before noon, I was packing my bags at the end of another very interesting public policy class when the professor came up to me and said, “you really seem to be getting this stuff.”

     I was getting this stuff, and I think I participated more in that class alone than I do for the whole semester in some of my other classes. I told her that ever since high school, I have found politics to be so intriguing.

     “Have you ever volunteered for a political campaign?” she asked.

     “Well no,” I said “I have always wanted to but wasn’t sure how to go about it.”

     “Just call them up,” she said, “I think that would be a great outlet for you.”

     And then she mentioned that every year, the governor’s office offers college internships, and I should consider applying. I told her I definitely would, and I was on top of the world that day walking back to the campus center for lunch, honored and amazed that this professor thought I was capable of pursuing such a prestigious opportunity.

     Of course, this was just before the controversial budget repair bill and the nasty political fighting over it was the lead story on the national news for a while, but that actually made me want the internship even more, to be part of the action. I started the application process: I had written my cover letter and decided which writing samples to include with the application by the beginning of March. (Instead of using the news articles I wrote for the student newspaper, and the feature story about Fashion Xchange, I thought for this internship it would be more appropriate to use the research paper about September 11 that I wrote for a political theory class first semester of last year and posted on this blog in December, as well as a feature story I wrote for a class about the midterm elections.)

     And then the ugly pessimist named Rationality reared its head.

     “Your major is Journalism and your minor is politics, not the other way around,” it said “what if you cannot get credit for it as it may not meet the requirements of the Communication department?”

     “Be realistic. Your grades are good, but you will be competing with thousands of other student from the big leagues of Milwaukee and Madison. You might be crushed if you invest too many eggs in this basket.”

     But after being rejected by Reader’s Digest, I decided it couldn’t hurt to apply. The worst case scenario if I got it would be that I would get politics credit but no journalism credit, and then I would just do another internship during the school year.

     So during another shift at the switchboard, I went to the web site for the office of the governor and tried to fill out the application. The file was a PDF which meant that it could not be edited as it was, so I selected all of the text in the file, copied it to the clipboard and pasted it in to a word file. But when I sent it to my dad to proofread it, he said that pasting it in to a word file totally messed up the format. He tried to figure out if there was a way to write in the file, but had no luck. Sure enough, my computer savvy manager told me the next day that unless it was a writable PDF, it couldn’t be filled out while still preserving the formatting, and she suggested that I contact the internship coordinator because I couldn’t be the only one having problems with this file. So just before my shift ended, I sent him an e-mail explaining my situation, and when I got home, I found a reply from him saying that he would work on a writable version of the application tomorrow. This was the Thursday before Easter. When April turned to May and I still hadn’t heard from him, I figured he must have forgot, and given how busy the office was due to the controversy, I didn’t want to be annoying by sending follow-up messages. So I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I would be doing an internship during the school year, but my dad still wanted me to keep trying for a summer internship. He was right that an internship during the school year wouldn’t be ideal because I would have other classes to worry about whereas summer was wide open. But every time I even thought about doing another internet search for an internship, I started to get a headache. Maybe I just needed to get through exams, take a break for a couple weeks and start from scratch. Besides, although my adviser said I could do my internship in the summer, she recommended that I register for the fall semester internship course because when you register for a summer course, even if it is done entirely off campus, you have to pay tuition as if you were taking a summer class, whereas by registering for the internship in the fall, it would be included in my fall semester tuition. Thus, if I completed my internship hours in the fall, this would not require any adjustments at the registrar’s office. When I told him I couldn’t deal with internship searching anymore, he took it upon himself to do some searching for me, inundating me with e-mails about internships I hadn’t found in my own searching. He even found a journalism position with Lake Country News, a subsidiary of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that was still accepting applications!

     The internet is overwhelming to me so I am not the greatest at searching for things. Thus, I really appreciated his help, but my heart just wasn’t in the internship hunt anymore. I applied for the lake country newspaper position, as well as a position with a nonprofit charity to try and show my appreciation of his help, but I did the bare minimum in terms of application requirements, meaning I didn’t bother to draft a cover letter or submit any writing samples. I never heard back from anyone regarding my application for the Lake Country position, and received a rejection letter from the charity. I expected as much since given the competitive nature of the internship market, they chose to hire students that hadn’t become lazy and apathetic like me. But that was alright because the next day, I discovered that the governor’s office hadn’t forgotten about me after all, for in my inbox was a beautiful, easy to follow writable application in microsoft word!

     This was just the inspiration I needed to get over my laziness and apathy. During my final shift for the year at the switchboard, I filled out the application and then on May 4, with all exams complete and thus no more school work hanging over my head, I completed the final piece of the application, an essay about what I could contribute to the governor’s office and what I hoped to get out of the experience. Then, as long as I had my computer on to submit my entry for Blogging Against Disablism Day, I officially submitted my application.

     On Friday, my dad persuaded me to contact the editor of the Waukesha Freeman where I did my high school mentorship and just ask if they might be able to give me an internship, even if internships weren’t being advertised. I hadn’t wanted to do it for fear that I would come off as annoying and because I didn’t want to pull strings. I wanted to come by my internship honestly not through the “I didn’t see any internships advertised, but I’m a sweet blind girl and worked for you in the past, so could you make an exception?” card. But then it occurred to me that all of the career experts, even the lady in the career center who helped me write my resume, strongly encourage assertiveness, so I resigned myself to this necessary evil. To my delight, I got a reply almost immediately from the news editor saying they do offer internships both in the summer and the school year. By Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, I had composed a customized cover letter and sent it off to the Waukesha Freeman along with three writing samples and my resume.

     I never heard back from the Waukesha Freeman. I don’t hold that against them though because newspaper internships are so competitive that they only respond to applications that they want to move forward with, and since my resume indicates that my contributions to my student newspaper were sporadic (Often, I didn’t feel I could do an adequate job with my newspaper assignments on top of my academic responsibilities), and since my writing samples couldn’t compare to other articles I have read in the newspaper written by my classmates, I am sure I wasn’t the most impressive candidate.

     But the following day, my cell phone rang. It was the governor’s office, and they were interested in an interview!

     They offered me the option of doing a phone interview since I live an hour and a half away from the capitol building, but I told them it would be no problem for me to come for an in-person interview. For one thing, my phone will work perfectly for a typical call to my parents or friends, but if it is an important call, which an interview for an internship with the governor’s office would be if anything is, that is when my cell phone signal is bad and the caller cannot hear me. This happened when the lady from Reader’s Digest called and I had to reenact those commercials. “Can you hear me now?” (I was going to put my home landline number on my applications because I have never had issues with that phone, but the person from career services told me it is more professional to list your personal cell phone.) Anyway, I would be nervous enough without the awkwardness of dealing with technical difficulties.

     But more importantly, I wanted to actually get a taste of the environment where I would be working should I get accepted, and I wanted the interviewer to see me. I wanted them to see, lest they have any misconceptions, that despite being blind, I knew how to comb my hair and dress professionally. I wanted them to observe Gilbert and me navigating to their office independently, and show them the technology I use. So I arranged an interview for 10:00 in the morning on June 17.

     I had taken a school field trip to the state capitol in fourth grade, but that was a long time ago so I had forgotten what a huge busy place it was. I think I have mentioned in the past that large, bustling unfamiliar places overwhelm me and I feared this would manifest itself in my interview. Unlike my interview with OnMilwaukee.com, I actually rehearsed to myself how I would respond to common questions like why I want the internship and what I would bring to the table. And when the interviewer caught me off guard with “what political figures do you look up to?” I was proud of my thinking on my feet, something I am usually terrible at. I responded to this question by saying that I voted for Barack Obama (if you haven’t been following the news, our governor is a republican). But I basically told them I am not a hard core registered Democrat and that I am independent, more concerned about the issues than politics which is the truth. I could tell they liked that answer.

     Despite how well prepared I felt, I couldn’t help wondering if I stammered too much or if my nervousness showed, so I decided I better get psychologically prepared for a polite rejection. But the following morning, I got an e-mail from the Milwaukee office of the governor. The interviewer had asked me if I would like to split my time between Madison and Milwaukee, and I had mentioned that this would be wonderful. My dad had said that since I would only have to work fifteen hours a week, he would have no problem driving me to Madison two or three times a week, but the Milwaukee office would be a lot more convenient. So the interviewer said he would forward my information to the Milwaukee office, but didn’t expect it to happen so fast. Anyway, the lady who runs the Milwaukee office also wanted an interview, which we arranged for 11:00 on the morning of May 20.

     The building where this office is located is large (nine stories), but quiet. The office was quiet too. The lady who invited me for the interview turned out to be the only one in the office. One person was all that was needed I would quickly learn. The office was necessary to serve the needs of local constituents, but most of the operations of the governor’s office took place at the capitol building in Madison. Thus, there would be plenty of peace and quiet in this office. In this preferred peace and quiet, I felt a lot more relaxed but still didn’t want to get overly confident.

     But after asking me again why I was interested in the internship and what I would contribute, her next question was “when can you start?” In other words, I had been accepted!

     We arranged to have me start at 8:00 in the morning the day after Memorial Day, which was the day two other interns would be starting, and which would give me time to get approval from my adviser. For this internship, I remembered to mention that I had to work 150 hours for full credit and that she needed to contact my adviser to negotiate a syllabus. I guess the silver lining of every failure like my failure to communicate the requirements clearly enough with OnMilwaukee.com, is that failures teach valuable lessons which increase the chances of success the next time around.

     And I was successful this time around. On Thursday May 26, my adviser told me that a syllabus had been approved and this syllabus was forwarded to me. And, I would get credit toward my major. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t specifically related to journalism which was the area of communication I had chosen to focus on in my studies. All that mattered was that it involve the broad field of Communication, and since my primary duty would be answering the phone and assisting constituents, it certainly did!

     But now that I reflect on this whole experience, it has occurred to me that in addition to learning the importance of proper communication and perseverance, I also learned spiritual lessons. I know I have neglected to mention faith in my recounting of this experience, but that was because I realize now that I was so determined to be independent that I didn’t even pray for help from God, which my mom had always taught me to do when I was feeling frustrated or discouraged. But maybe God insisted on helping me anyway.

     Throughout the course of my internship search, despite the fact that I had majored in journalism and imagined both an internship and a career that involved writing for either a newspaper or online publication, nothing filled me with as much passion and excitement as the idea of an internship with the governor’s office. But between my lack of confidence in my abilities despite my professor’s encouragement and my reluctance to stray from the journalism path, I was hesitant to pursue this amazing opportunity. But when other journalism internships didn’t work out, the opportunity that I thought could only be a dream ended up being reality. Some readers may be skeptical, but I cannot help wonder if this was God’s way of telling me: “have more confidence in yourself. Don’t be afraid to stray from the path and try something new. Don’t let doubt stand in the way of pursuing something you discover a passion for because it may not necessarily turn out to be just a dream.”

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