October 20, 2020
On the first day of my virtual internship in June 2020, I was nervous and worried about how I would fulfill my role. Not only was this my first internship ever, but it was remote on top of that. What am I going to do for seven hours straight on my computer? I thought. Will they give me directions on tasks? What do I do if I have a question about something? These thoughts seem silly to me now, but these were my fears as I clicked the link to join my first ever zoom meeting with my future employer and waited eagerly to enter the call.
Take Time To Get To Know Your Team
Working remotely is second nature to me now. Before I began my internship with ProsperUS Detroit, I was concerned about how I was supposed to engage with community members when I was sitting in my parent’s house in the suburbs miles away from the city. Through the Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program (DCERP), I was supposed to be living and working in Detroit and engaging in bi-weekly meetings with my peers and Detroit leaders in social justice and non-profit work. ProsperUS is a non-profit that assists low-income and minority entrepreneurs through various programs, and my role was to lead a research project to analyze a training program for food entrepreneurs by interviewing the business owners. I feared that working remotely would create barriers between getting to know my organization and building trust with community members. However, I am happy to say that after a little bit of adjusting to the remote platform, I was able to build relationships with the ProsperUS team members, and I felt welcomed and appreciated by my supervisors. I also believe the engagements with community members were not deterred by the remote aspect, as I was able to conduct meaningful and informative interviews.
I was worried about how I would apply my creative background to my position, given that it was remote. I found I was able to use my skills in designing the final deliverable of the report for my project as well as creating and dispersing social media content for ProsperUS, which I have been able to continue in my role as the current social media coordinator. My perceptions of working virtually are overall much more hopeful now, as I understand what working in the remote world looks like and feels like, and I know how to thrive within that space.
Take Initiative To Go Above and Beyond
The only advice I can offer when navigating a virtual internship is that there is no best way to prepare. The only way to adjust is to do it again and again until you become comfortable. You have to be fully invested in your work and not let any of the downsides of a virtual workplace discourage you from putting forth your very best effort. One thing I feel that helped me the most was maintaining open communication with my supervisors and having a working relationship where I was not afraid to ask questions. Additionally, remote work requires that you take a lot of initiative to work on your own, and you have to infer what you should be doing. I found that it paid off to always keep busy with whatever tasks I received for the week and to go beyond that by also preparing for future tasks I assumed were coming or doing additional research. Just because we are in a pandemic does not mean the world is on pause, and some nonprofits like those I engaged with this summer need the help of interns now more than ever. I am happy to say that the reality of my first internship experience exceeded my expectations. I evolved to become more confident in myself and my working ability, and I feel more self-assured in my pursuit of a career in social justice. I am comfortable sharing my ideas and acting as a contributing member of a team, and I feel much more confident in my interpersonal and professional skills. I have a better understanding of the structural operation of a non-profit and all of the moving parts it takes to operate the entire organization. My contribution to creating a report for ProsperUS will serve as a resource for future entrepreneurs and help them in improving future training programs and obtaining future funding. Not to mention my work for their social media maintains the network of entrepreneurs that ProsperUS works with and shared information about grant opportunities and resources for community members.
Pursue The Work You Care About Regardless of the Barriers
While I have had a passion for social justice for years, in the past, I have received negative sentiments from family members and friends when I describe that I wish to pursue a career working in this sector. These statements were discouraging to me, and I sometimes doubted myself. After working alongside professionals who strive for equity every day at ProsperUS, I have an objective understanding of what working in social justice in the real world looks like, and I cannot wait to be a part of it. Now that I have the experience of a virtual internship, I’m ready to take on any experience my future career will bring.
Written by Mackenzie Hewitt. Mackenzie is a Let’s Detroit Campus Ambassador at University of Michigan Ann Arbor majoring in Art, Design and Sociology with a focus on law and social justice. Connect with her here.