Internship Duties and New Perspectives

 

“So what have you been doing this summer?” I get this question every year from friends and relatives, and usually, my response is a lazy “Nothing really. I’ve pretty much just been reading and relaxing.” This summer as you readers know has been different, as I had finally accrued enough wisdom to be eligible for an internship. When I tell them I am doing an internship, their next question of course is “That’s cool! Where are you doing your internship?” As you readers already know, I am doing my internship in the Milwaukee office of my state’s governor. Then the next thing friends say, and the thing you are probably saying too is “Wow! So what are your duties in this internship?” That is what I am finally ready to reveal in this entry. I had this entry all ready to post August 1, but instead of getting the usual “update successful” message when I clicked the post button, LiveJournal gave me an “internal server error” message. I would have tried posting again later, but had just enough time to post the entry once before heading to choir rehearsal from 7:00 to 10:00 that night. Then after choir, I needed to get to bed right away because I needed to be up by 5:30 in the morning to exercise, get dressed for my internship and do some last minute packing for a week-long trip to Cincinnati for my grandma’s 80th birthday party. My mom was going to do her last minute packing and load the car while I was working, pick me up from work and hit the road from there.

 

     To my delight, I didn’t have to go a whole week without internet access because the Holiday Inn Express where we were staying had internet cables available at the front desk so I could connect to the internet with my Braille notetaker! But my Braille notetaker doesn’t allow me to post lengthy blog posts. I don’t have a laptop, and as my fellow blind readers would know since we are a rare breed, you don’t find desktop computers equipped with JAWS around every corner. Maybe I could have looked in to the possibility of finding one, but decided it would be easier to just wait until I got home. Then when I got home, it occurred to me that my supervisor said my last day could be August 11. I enjoyed this internship so much I would have worked until August 31 and gone right back to school September 1, but my supervisor said that since I had already exceeded my required number of hours, I should take some time off to relax and prepare for school. That meant I only had three days of work left when we returned from the trip, so I decided I might as well just wait until the internship was finished to post. That way, I could update a few details and make it more reflective in nature. So without further ado, here is the entry you have been waiting for all summer.

 

     To earn college credit for this internship, I had to keep a daily journal of my duties. I thought about posting that but thought you readers might find this approach boring. So instead, I thought I would give a general overview of a typical day.

 

     I typically worked from 8:00 until noon four days a week. On the application for this internship, one of the requirements was that students be available to work a minimum of fifteen hours each week. Since my summer schedule was wide open, I told my supervisor I could work forty hours a week if she wanted me to, but she said it wasn’t necessary to work more than fifteen hours. By working four hours a day four days a week for a total of sixteen hours, I am essentially working the minimum, but can tell myself I’ve gone above the minimum!

 

     Anyway, I generally worked Monday through Thursday, although sometimes, my supervisor had to attend events with the governor and since she was the only one running the office and didn’t like to leave interns in the office by themselves, I stayed home those days and made up for it by working Fridays those weeks. There were three other interns who attended several of these events with her, but many of them required the interns to assist with security or help direct people, tasks which would not have been feasible for me, at least not in an unfamiliar setting. But on August 9, the day I returned to work after the trip to Cincinnati, my supervisor took me to a groundbreaking ceremony where the governor planned to speak. The ceremony was for Innovation Park, a field purchased by a local college that is going to be used for research buildings. No security assistance or directing of people was needed at this event, so my supervisor found a spot for Gilbert and me to sit and listen. I had been to a dedication ceremony. It was in fourth grade when part of the school playground had to be rebuilt after some bratty high school boys burned it down. But I had never been to a groundbreaking ceremony before. The speeches were similar to my memories of the dedication ceremony, with lots of people thanking everyone that made the project possible. But instead of cutting a ribbon, each of the aldermen symbolically dug shovels in to a mound of dirt.

 

     The only reason I was slightly disappointed about not going to events in the early days of the internship was because I wanted to get the opportunity to meet the governor. But I had no reason to worry about missing out on that opportunity because he came to do work out of the Milwaukee office several times. The first time was the morning of June 27. I could hear him working in a back office for about an hour and a half. Just before it was time for him to leave, he shook my hand, thanked me for helping out in the governor’s office, and then my supervisor took a picture of me standing with him. My parents and sister all said it is a very good picture. My parents printed several copies to hand out to relatives and of course, one copy to hang on the fridge. My sister also helped me upload it to Facebook. Usually I hate it when my family makes a fuss over pictures. But even I recognized what an honor it was to have my picture taken with the governor, even if I couldn’t see it.

 

     Due to allergies, the governor didn’t pet Gilbert and to my relief, Gilbert seemed to sense this because often when he sees me stand up, talk excitedly and shake someone’s hand, he picks up on that, standing up and getting excited himself. But when I stood up to shake the governor’s hand both times he visited the office, Gilbert remained lying down. But he also got some additional excitement that day as the security guys showered him with belly rubs and attention!

 

     But the typical quiet days have been full of exciting experiences too. Here is what the typical day looks like.

 

     I generally left the house between 7:30 and 7:35 each morning which is nice because last summer when I worked the morning shift at my college’s switchboard, I had to be there by 7:30, which was very difficult as I am always a little sluggish early in the morning. But I prefer getting my work done early and having the rest of the day off, so although I could have scheduled my internship hours for the afternoon, I chose the morning shift. (If I had to do my internship in Madison though, I probably would have chosen the afternoon shift.) What’s also really nice about this internship is that my supervisor is very casual when it comes to promptness. She even told me during the interview, “Don’t come before 8:00 because I never get here before 8:00. In fact, if you arrive at 8:10, that’s fine.” Although I am trying to improve my efficiency in the morning since I have heard that other bosses in the adult world aren’t as casual, the truth is, I did often arrive at 8:10.

 

     Just like when I worked at the switchboard, my parents parked the car in front of the building where Gilbert and I could get to the office on our own. Even when my dad took me to this building the first time for my interview, I could tell it would be a super easy route to learn, and it was. My parents were almost always able to park right in front of the six steps that lead up to the building and then it was a straight shot to the door. Once through the two sets of doors, Gilbert knew to veer right and find the elevator. The only tricky part of the route was using the elevator. In the school traveling that I was accustomed to, there is only one elevator in the building and the building is only two or three floors making the button easy to find once inside the elevator. This building had four elevators, so when you pushed the button to call the elevator, you could get any one of the four. Then, since the building had nine floors, there were two columns of buttons on the elevator panel which I never did get used to. But fortunately, 95 percent of the time, there were nice people who would tell me, “this elevator is open”, hold the door open so I could get to it calmly and push the button of the fifth floor for me. Once off the elevator, Gilbert knew to simply walk straight until we came to carpet, turn left and you couldn’t miss the office door! (The last three days of the internship weren’t as smooth because the entrance I had been using all summer was getting renovated and at the other entrance to the building, there was no room to park in front of the building, so Mom had to park on the street and walk to the door with me. They couldn’t wait just one more week to start renovating that entrance! But I got to be independent for most of the internship anyway).

 

     My desk was the first desk you come to inside the door. I would take my place at this desk and log in to my computer which was equipped with JAWS when I walked in on the first day. Meanwhile, Gilbert would settle on to the floor between my desk and the door, where my supervisor said people would walk by and smile at him through the glass window in the door as if he is in a zoo exhibit! I know proper guide dog etiquette dictates making Gilbert lay under the desk, and at the switchboard where there isn’t a lot of floor space, he does. But this office was so spacious that he could get away with lying out in the open without tripping visitors.

 

     My duties mostly consisted of answering the phone and assisting constituents, which I loved to tell people was more interesting than it sounded. Let’s just say that while I listed my switchboard experience on my resume for this internship, the phone calls that came to the governor’s office were much different. At the switchboard it was, “could I have the bookstore please?” “Sure, I’ll transfer you right now.” At the switchboard, it was rare to get a caller who was upset about something, and the few times I did, whatever they were upset about was easily rectified as it was usually something straightforward like a misplaced ID or something. But consoling people who are upset about the governor’s policies was not nearly as easy, and given the angry political climate all over the country these days, getting a caller who was upset about the governor’s policies was quite common. When I would get a caller who was so upset they were yelling or occasionally crying, I would find myself sitting stunned, my mouth hanging open speechless, wishing I could give them a simple answer or transfer them to someone who could. But all I could say was “I’m sorry you feel that way. I’ll pass that along to the governor.” On the second day of the internship, I asked my supervisor to show me how to put callers on speaker phone so that when they had a message for the governor, I could copy their name, phone number and a paraphrase of their message on to my braille notetaker. When the call was finished, I would re-type this message on the computer to be printed out at the end of my shift and given to my supervisor. I would also get calls reminiscent of the switchboard, with people looking to contact their representatives in the assembly or senate, or people who needed to speak to someone in a particular department like welfare. Unlike the switchboard, I couldn’t transfer them directly, but I would give them the phone number so they could call. Though I felt a little inept at times and although my heart always pounded a little nervously every time the phone rang, my supervisor complemented my professional demeanor on the phone, even saying I was personable and put callers at ease! But more exciting than her complements was just the fact that this experience handling more difficult calls will most certainly make me more confident in my switchboard job and in life after college.

 

     In addition to answering the phone, I also helped draft award certificates. For these certificates, my supervisor e-mailed me a pre-formatted template. It took me awhile to get used to the format because I had never written certificates before. At the top of each certificate was the name of the recipient and directly under that, the award they were being recognized for. This part of the certificate was always filled in for me. This was followed by four sentences, the first giving a brief summary of the criteria for winning the award and the other three giving biographical information about the recipient and his or her accomplishments. But each sentence would begin with “whereas;”, end in a semicolon and be followed by “and.” For example, a certificate might say:

 

WHEREAS; the Most Adored Dog award will be presented to Gilbert on August 4, 2011, when I subjectively reward a dog each year for characteristics like joyful disposition, handsome physical features and love of people; and

 

WHEREAS; Gilbert has been a loyal guide dog to his blind partner for three years, but also has gone above and beyond this duty by bringing smiles to the faces of everyone he meets; and…

 

(Hey, that was fun! I ought to complete that certificate someday and present it to Gilbert, maybe when it’s time for him to retire.) Anyway, this biographical information was followed by a statement of congratulations and the governor’s signature. I have received certificates myself but never really paid attention to how they were formatted. Writing these certificates was tedious as the biographical information on the certificate was supposed to be brief, requiring me to pick out the most important points from the long biographical overviews e-mailed to me which I never felt was my strong suit. Also, since the same template was used for all certificates, I had to erase the biographical information of old certificates before writing the new ones. But this tedium was always overshadowed by the joy of taking on a new writing challenge. I also loved just reading the biographical information which was often quite interesting and impressive and having inside knowledge of some of the awards the governor presents. My supervisor complemented me on these certificates too, saying they only required minimal editing.

 

     I also had the duty of greeting and assisting the occasional visitor to the office who had a question or needed to pick up forms. When the door opened and the person did not announce themselves as one of the other interns or capitol police, I was supposed to say “can I help you?” If they asked for a clemency packet to have a felony expunged from their record which was a relatively common request, my supervisor put a stack of envelopes with these packets within easy reach to the left of my computer. I was supposed to ask the person if it had been at least five years since the felony was committed and if the sentence had been completely served as these are the requirements before a clemency packet is accepted. If they answered yes to these questions, I asked them to sign in to a notebook that is set out on the desk and then I would give them a packet. For any other requests, I had to ask my supervisor for help, but I was still the first person they would speak to when they entered the office. Since in-person visits were rare in this quiet office, I almost always felt caught off guard, stumbling over my words occasionally, but it has been an excellent confidence booster that I know will serve me well in any receptionist duties I may have in a career after college.

 

     But as I said, unlike Madison, this office was a very quiet office. I would say the phone rang an average of three times during my shifts, although I had a couple days where I only fielded one call, and one day when there were no calls at all. In-person visits probably happened once or twice a week and there were no events to write certificates for in July. Thus, there were long stretches of time where I had nothing to do, but this time wasn’t wasted. Sure, there was time for my supervisor and I to chat about our dogs or our favorite restaurants and I had plenty of time for pleasure reading. But much of my downtime was extremely educational. As I mentioned in the entry about my interview, I told the interviewer that I voted for Barack Obama but that I am not a registered Democrat and vote based on the issues not politics. In essence, I hoped this answer would convey that although I voted Democratic, I am open-minded to other views, which I thought was the truth. But until this internship, I never realized how much my liberal family and friends influenced me and how liberal leaning much of the news I listened to was. For example, when my supervisor was talking about how the new budget repair bill would be good for education, I couldn’t help recalling conversations with friends who said that the elimination of collective bargaining would mean increased class sizes which would have a negative impact on education. The journalist in me couldn’t resist asking “what do you say to people who make these arguments?” She responded that the elimination of collective bargaining wouldn’t have to result in any layoffs or increased class sizes. The purpose of that part of the bill was to give school districts the freedom to cut costs by doing things like switching to less expensive insurance plans. Teachers would have to contribute a little more, but it wouldn’t send them in to poverty, the coverage would be comparable to the coverage they have now and the cost of the increased contribution would be offset by the fact that paying union dues, which used to be mandatory, would be optional under the new plan. She even cited one district where this move alone could save something like 300 jobs! The reason teachers were being laid off was because union leaders in some districts were unwilling to make these necessary concessions, leaving school districts no other choice but to lay teachers off. A few weeks later, she encouraged me to read a newspaper article that confirmed this very argument.

 

     On another day, we listened to Barack Obama give a press conference about his plan for reducing the federal deficit. When it was over, I asked her what she thought of it. “Well, what did you think?” she replied. I didn’t know what to say. His plan sounded good to me. Then she pointed out how he would agree to a spending freeze, which she said is not the same as a spending cut. A spending freeze merely meant he wouldn’t increase current spending levels, but he wouldn’t decrease spending either, and only spending cuts can reduce the deficit. These instances among others over the course of this internship have forced me to come to terms with the fact that I am not the well-rounded news consumer I always thought I was. My views are very much influenced by the views of people in my social circles and I fall for a good speech without being a critical listener. At first, I was reluctant to ask challenging questions like this fearing she would take offense to these indications of my liberal views, but I had no reason to worry. She was a wonderful mentor and said she encourages people to read literature from both sides of the aisle. We may disagree on issues, but when you get right down to it, we all want the same thing: a prosperous country, a bright future for our children. After examining all sides of an issue, if I come to a different conclusion than she does, that doesn’t make me a bad person. After the new perspectives this internship has given me, I don’t know how I will vote in the next election yet. But I do know that I won’t just talk the talk of a well-rounded, independent voter. I will walk the walk and be a critical reader and listener to both sides of every issue.

 

     And at the end of each of these wonderful days, my supervisor accompanies me out to the front of the building where my parents pick me up. For the first couple days, my dad would park a couple blocks away, feed a meter and come in to the lobby and wait for me. This was kind of a nice routine as it felt good to take a little walk after sitting all morning and it’s always good practice for Gilbert to cross busy city streets since our house is surrounded by country roads. But my supervisor thought it was silly for my dad to have to pay to park for such a short time, so after the first week, he would pull right up to the building just like he did in the morning. I told my supervisor that I could get down the elevator and out to the car on my own, but she said she liked to get out of the office for some fresh air anyway and since there wasn’t the rush of people that I could count on for elevator help like there was in the morning, I didn’t argue with her. (I think she also got a kick out of watching Gilbert who had to pass a hot dog cart that was almost always stationed in front of the building to get to the car. He wouldn’t pull me toward it, but I would always feel his head turn to look at it longingly as we passed!)

 

     Once home, the wonderful morning was always topped off with a delicious lunch which usually consisted of a wrap filled to bursting with turkey and summer vegetables, a bowl of soup and ice cream. And even on days when there were difficult calls, days when I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, I came home every day feeling contented and blessed, perhaps still in disbelief that I was excelling in an internship that I thought could only be a dream.

 

     As I got older, I no longer brought gifts for my teachers at the end of the school year, but my supervisor was such a wonderful mentor that I decided to resurrect the tradition. I bought her a Carroll University coffee mug, and my mom bought a pound of Starbucks coffee and a package of biscotti to include with it in a pretty gift bag. Over a cup of soup and half a sandwich at Panera Bread where my supervisor took me out to lunch on my last day, a tradition she has for all the interns, it occurred to me that I was going to miss working with her. But I asked her if I could use her as a reference when applying to jobs after college. “Absolutely!” she said. “Just let me know. And, if you are in the area, come back to the office and visit!” I told her I definitely would, and if the state ever posted jobs for additional staff in the office, I would definitely apply so that we could work together again.

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