This summer’s posts feature University of Utah students’ experiences in spring and summer internships.
This summer, I have had an amazing experience interning with the International Trade Administration (ITA) in the U.S. Department of Commerce. Through interning with the Office of Energy and Environmental Industries (OEEI), I have gained valuable perspective on what it means to be a public servant and work for the federal government. From updating trade codes to help U.S. businesses export their products, conducting research on carbon-capture technologies that work to prevent climate change, and collaborating with several other parts of the government on various projects, I have witnessed firsthand the vast scope and importance of the federal government. This experience has strengthened my future goals while also helping me develop as a human. I plan to carry the lessons I have learned from this internship beyond this summer and into other professional endeavors. I would like to share a few of them with you.
The Most Important Project
When I started my internship with the ITA in the middle of May, one of my main goals was to intern with an open mind and positive attitude. In other words, I would do whatever my supervisors needed without complaint or hesitation. For example, when I first started, my office was in the process of updating trade codes to better capture environmental technologies (e.g., carbon capture technology, water purification systems), and as a first project I was given the task of researching these new codes. Frankly, researching trade codes, which can get as specific as ten digits in length, can be confusing and tedious work. Regardless of the challenge, I took this project on with optimism and the goal of doing the best I could, allowing me to gain the appreciation and trust of my supervisors. As a result, I have been included in many more interesting and enjoyable projects throughout the summer. I believe that if I had dragged my feet on my first project, my supervisors would not have trusted me to do more substantive work in the future. In an internship, the most important project that you will complete is the first project, and you must engage with it fully and optimistically.
Focusing on Networking
After nearly two months of my internship, I have learned that one of the most valuable opportunities that an internship provides is the chance to meet and connect with new people. As someone who is a natural introvert, networking has not always been my strong suit. This summer, however, I made myself a promise before starting my internship: take advantage of every possible networking opportunity. As a result, I have met many intelligent, friendly, and interesting people working at the ITA. For example, once every few months the unit officer on my office’s floor hosts a small gathering where everyone on the floor gets together. I was able to meet people from several other offices, such as the Office of Transportation and Machinery, who were able to tell me about their careers and help me expand my understanding of the ITA’s mission. The connections and knowledge you gain from networking are a great opportunity. Make a promise to yourself that you will network as much as you can through your internship.
Figuring Yourself Out
By far the most important part of interning with OEEI for me personally has been the chance to figure myself out. Before working at the ITA, I knew I wanted to work in international relations, but I did not really understand what that meant specifically, or how to get there. During this internship, I have worked on several projects, both big and small, that have given me a valuable perspective on working in public policy. After each project has finished, I reflect and ask myself if I think I could do that for my career, for 30+ years. In some cases, my answer is yes, I would love to do that for my career. In other cases, I may be less enthusiastic. Completing this exercise has helped me understand what I enjoy and what I don’t enjoy as much, in turn helping me understand what careers I may want to do and which ones I want to avoid. Make sure that when you complete an internship, you do so with constant reflection about what you are learning from that internship and apply that knowledge to you and your future. I have learned many things about myself and developed in ways that I could not imagine because of my decision to intern with the ITA this summer. I would highly recommend interning with an organization of interest, especially if it is a federal government agency, in order to develop professionally and personally. If you have a career interest, even generally, seek out an internship and gain that individual development.