At College for Social Innovation, we know that our first jobs and internships shaped our futures and cultivated our passion for social sector work. These experiences are the reason we are here today! The beginning of summer marks the start of similar experiences for college students everywhere—experiences that will open doors of opportunity and launch inspiring careers. In this blog series, our staff tell the stories of their own first internships, sharing advice, memories, and appreciation for their earliest professional experiences.
Edith Buhs is our interim Chief Program Officer! She has nearly 30 years of experience working for innovative nonprofits and in recent years has been involved with several College for Social Innovation projects serving as a consultant. Edith has held senior talent management roles at Citizen Schools, City Year and Jumpstart, and was most recently a founding staff member at AchieveMission. Edith comes to CFSI as an expert facilitator and change manager, who has lead people to debate productively, decide thoughtfully and deliver work together powerfully in myriad settings. At College for Social Innovation, Edith will oversee the shared apartments, internships, and coursework for Semester in the City and is a lead instructor for the Becoming a Problem Solver course.
What was your first internship experience like?
My first internship experience was during the summer of following my junior year of college. I worked in the Dean of Students Office at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. My internship focused on planning, recruiting participants and running a state-wide community service conference that was co-sponsored by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office and the biggest telecommunication company at the time. Planning the conference taught me many valuable skills, such as how to manage a budget, how to recruit students and faculty to come to the conference and how to manage logistics and speakers for a large-scale event.
In addition to developing my planning abilities, my greatest takeaway from this internship experience was learning business writing. All of my external communications were reviewed by a graduate student and every time, he sent me back my work covered in red pen edits. I went into the internship believing that I was a strong writer, but that summer I learned more about writing than I had in any classroom setting. When I think back on that summer, one of my favorite memories is when that graduate student handed back a draft and the only red ink on it read “looks good”. I was so proud.
It has been over 30 years since I was an intern for the Dean of Students Office, yet I still exchange Christmas cards every year with that graduate student and I think of him from time to time when I’m editing my own writing.
What made you interested in this type of work (your current job)?
My internship experiences and the extracurriculars that I was a part of in college cultivated my interest in the power of young people to make change in the world. I helped to found the alternative break organization on my campus and got involved in several national organizations as a result. Following graduation, I completed two fellowships for one of them around organizing a national student community service and leadership conference (sound familiar?). I saw first hand the impact that college students can have. I am delighted to join the College for Social Innovation team and help to educate and inspire the next generation of problem solvers!
What is one piece of advice you would give to students in their first internship?
My advice is to ask for feedback and then be ready to receive and act upon it. It is important to try new things and take chances within an internship, so failure is inevitable. If you can approach your internship being prepared to fail and then try again, it will result in a better experience for you and ultimately a more valuable contribution to the worksite. The best way to ensure that the chances you are taking are in alignment with the company mission and provide value to the organization is by asking for feedback. Too often people are afraid of feedback, so set yourself apart by asking for it and being ready to use it.