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Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer Interns - The Excitement and the Challenges.

Since my first nonprofit position nearly five years ago, I’ve considered volunteer/intern programs to be an integral part of a mission-driven organization. I have been lucky to have supervised brilliant, driven interns – high school, undergraduate, graduate students, young professions, and even individuals of my age who are interested in sustainability-focused careers.

And I’ve found that the summer is THE BEST time to harness interns’ energy and benefit from their fresh perspectives.

Summer interns can often spend full days in the office, or if virtual, commit more to video-chat meetings during the week – and this allows them to take on more substantial work. It also allows them to better understand my organization’s mission, and our day-to-day goals and challenges. 

Ultimately, I hope that they will be able to speak proudly and comprehensively about what my organization does, and describe how they directly contributed to helping us achieve our mission. I hope that I am able to easily draft recommendation letters at the end of the term because I feel confident that I can describe the interns’ strengths and professional qualifications.  

The ENTJ Supervisor   

As a middle manager, the intern program helps me to practice communicating clearly – when translating my department's needs into clear assignments with specific parameters. As an ENTJ (Myers-Briggs type: Extrovert, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging) – working with interns provides ideal challenges: soften my management style, listen more, be more conscious of others’ feelings, and stay consistent when providing feedback.

Other than benefiting my organization, my department, my professional goals, and the many benefits that THEY hopefully receive from the internship program, interns are also usually SO MUCH FUN. 

Some are quirky, some are thoughtful, some dream huge dreams, and nearly all expand my worldview (saving me from staring into a screen all day, from deflated creativity...). And they tend to really make the office more enjoyable.

As an ENTJ, I love people, so a challenge is to NOT be so excited to have a new cohort – to remain professional but approachable. To have fun but establish an environment where interns will be diligent and dedicated to their tasks.
I’ve learned that it’s unhelpful to blur the lines between supervisor and friend (and hope to discuss this more during future EL sessions…to gauge if this is reasonable) – that a little bit of emotional/personal distance is necessary.

Another skill I’m really working on is to better understand how to read interns. 

I take pride in developing tools (surveys, etc.) before interns begin their position, in order to try to recognize what types of project interns will enjoy, what skills they hope to hone, and how to develop a good work environment where they can be productive. 

HOWEVER – some interns are not very forthcoming. Sometimes they don’t actually know what they’re interested in…and, let me tell you, as a definitively forceful, decisive ENTJ – this can be frustrating. And the professional/personal goal list-making continues...

So, there you have it. A few of my own successes and challenges. I’m really looking forward to any reactions, stories, and feedback from my EL cohort. Until then, I hope all ELs and blog readers have a wonderful, introspective, and productive summer.   

- Brie Welzer, Nonprofit organization Green Seal, Inc. - "using science-based create a more sustainable world."

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