We sat down this semester with Matthew Wagner to talk about his spring internship in Harrisburg with the Commonwealth Foundation, a policy-research think tank. Because of Messiah College’s proximity to Harrisburg, Matt decided to look for something in the city and close to the capitol. He is now almost three months in to his Spring internship with the Common Wealth Foundation of Harrisburg.
Matt was kind to sit with us and answer a few questions about his experience.
How have you been able to balance course-work and internship work?
Well, if you do an internship for credit you have to take an internship class. This internship I’m doing is 6 credits, so I have to do a weekly class. And so there are some assignments for the class (i.e. reflection papers). You also have to do a master work portfolio and turn that it. But as far as balancing out other coursework. . . my internship is only 2 full days a week and I don’t have any homework for it. But, I’ve realized that it did make my semester busier than I thought because it made me realize how much time my internship did take away from time I could be doing other work. I’m also double majoring in Music which takes up a lot of time.
Tell us a bit about what you do every day?
Well I work for a policy institution, they will take the current issues and the current bills being discussed (in PA legislature) and they’ll analyze them and post articles and blogs on their website. I go into my office every day and I’m at the computer pretty much most of the time and I’m doing research to help with the articles that the professional policy analysts post. So, they’ll give me little tasks with a due date. I also do typical office stuff like bringing stuff up from the storage room and dropping mail off etc. But I do get to visit the Capitol for hearings too! I really enjoy doing that. Some people might find it boring. I think it’s really interesting to see the interactions when the actual legislatures make their proposals to committees.
It is hard for prospective students and even current students who have not done an internship to picture what it will look like. Of course it depends on the placement, but in general internships offer a great way to get one’s feet wet in a professional environment. What has been your experience being in a professional environment?
It is my first job when I’m going into an office for a full day, so you do all the typical professional things. You have to wear a suit and formal clothing and you do have to worry about being on time and getting things done on time. It’s really not too scary or tough. The people I work with are really nice and pretty laid back. But yeah, you definitely have to worry about your presentation in front of other people.
If you could give advice to a future student (think of this as giving yourself advice 3 years ago) what would you tell them about making the most of their internship experience?
Observe how you feel the whole time. That’s something I’ve been doing (e.g. what tires you or energized you). You learn a lot about yourself in an office environment and you’ll find out what works for you. And I didn’t expect to learn about those things, but it’s interesting how much I’ve learned about myself from just spending time in an office. But also I would say be confident for sure. Whenever you’re meeting people, give them a nice firm hand shake and look them in the eye. I think first impressions really are everything to your job, especially when you’re not going to be seeing certain people a lot.
What have been the most helpful classes you have taken at Messiah College which prepared you for the internship?
I think all the politics classes in general were probably the most helpful. With my job in particular, since I am doing political research, Research Methods has been helpful because it familiarized me with the concepts in political research which I come across all the time. Learning what kinds of sources work and don’t work, what sources are appropriate for certain research, knowing how to interpret different sources and whether you have to do more digging in your research.
And then even the politics classes about other countries, like say Politics in the UK, are the same. You’re using a bunch of different sources and learning how to use them, and this is definitely something I’m doing in this internship.
What are you up to next year, you last year at Messiah College?
I’d like to do another internship over the summer. I don’t think I’m going to do one senior year because I’ll be doing SAB again (Student Activities Board) because I had booked our B-Sides bands my sophomore year and will be doing that again next year. I’ll also be preparing for my senior recital (Music Department) and applying to grad schools maybe, and preparing for politics senior seminar (Politics department) which will have quite a lot of work. I can definitely see myself working in politics while I’m doing grad school in music. I think that’s probably what I’d like to end up doing. I see both majors as ways to explore things I’m strongly interested in. So that is another reason why internships are important to me because I do want to get a job and support myself through grad school.
Some students may not know where to start when looking for an internship, and many can be overwhelmed by the process. Matt knew he wanted an internship his junior year, and since he had up to 9 credits of an internship to fill he decided to make the most of that opportunity. Searching for an internship may be a long process, but the Internship Center and faculty are happy to help direct students to the right placement for them. Hopefully students will take advantage of this and and continue their education outside of the classroom and inside the workplace.
More information about searching and applying for internships can be found at the Messiah College Internship Center.
And for more information about the Commonwealth foundation, go to their website and their staff blog.