Summer 2015 Internship Reflections

It’s been officially two weeks since I ended my internship, and in that span of time, I traveled home to Buffalo, packed for Dickinson, and moved back for cross country preseason! It’s been a pretty hectic week, but as a result, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my experiences in Philadelphia. Below are my takeaways from this summer:

Keep a positive attitude, and don’t complain.
THIS IS ESSENTIAL. It seems obvious, but I cannot stress how important this is! As an intern, there were some days when my supervisor didn’t have enough for me to do, so I worked on general office management tasks like filing. Yes, I wanted to drag my feet, and yes, it was incredibly boring. However, it’s so important to do these tasks with a smile (a little enthusiasm doesn’t hurt either!), and most importantly, do them well. You’ll find very quickly that interns with a positive attitude spend much less time doing these mundane tasks, and more time working on the big projects.

Get to know people from every department.
Regardless of how big or small the organization is, make a point to get to know people from every department. If you pigeonhole yourself and stay within your own team, you can miss out on amazing connections and a wealth of knowledge! However, there is a fine line between developing relationships and forcing them, and people will notice the difference. Doing small things like thanking someone for their help on a project (or in my case, offering to go buy cough drops for my sick supervisor) will get you noticed! You never know where a compliment or good deed can lead you… call it karma.

Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions.
Asking questions and voicing your opinion shows that you’re invested in your internship, and that it’s important to you that tasks are done well. Your supervisor would much rather answer a quick question than have you bumble through an assignment incorrectly because you don’t understand. Communication is essential, so don’t underestimate it and utilize any time you have one on one with your supervisor.

Just go for it.
The only reason I ended up in Philadelphia this summer was because I decided to throw caution to the wind and apply for an unpaid internship, even though I knew there was no way I could afford to do anything like this without some sort of financial assistance. However, I was fortunate enough to not only receive the internship, but also an incredible amount of aid from Dickinson that allowed me to have this opportunity. Long story short, just go for it, you never know what will happen!

cannot emphasize how wonderful and amazing this opportunity was, I am so grateful for everyone who helped me accomplish this! I had a wonderful time interning with NSC, and I am proud to say that I made several solid connections, learned a lot about nonprofit work, and solidified that this kind of work is what I want to pursue after college… what more could I ever ask for in a summer internship?

Thank you to all who took the time to read my blog, I truly appreciate it. I’m excited to say that I will be completing another internship this fall with a nonprofit based in Chicago. This internship will be remotely based, and I will be focusing solely on grant writing! Needless to say, I’m very excited to see what these next few weeks bring… I’m thinking maybe at least another blog post or two.

Until next time,



Refugee Garden Opening!

As an intern at NSC, one of my biggest projects was helping with the opening of our second refugee garden in south Philadelphia! I’m happy to say that it finally happened this past week on Wednesday night, we had 50  interested gardeners from the Karen, Chin, Burmese, Congolese and Bhutanese newcomer communities and their neighbors sign up for garden plots for the Fall 2015 growing season. The excitement was palpable, and it was extremely rewarding to see how something as simple as a single garden plot make someone extremely happy and hopeful.

A little background information… NSC currently operates one small garden plot in south Philadelphia called Growing Home Garden, but this is only about 1.3 acres, and has about 90 families growing produce. Every single inch of space is being used, and it is filled to capacity! The demand for garden space for our clients has been consistently high since the opening of this site, and we have a waiting list of over 200 people who want to take part in the garden project. Subsequently, NSC began looking for a new space, and found 2.8 acres of land in south Philadelphia to lease.

The new site, called Growing Together Garden, was selected for its relative proximity to the Growing Home Garden and its capacity to hold 800 garden beds. NSC will lease this land through 2019, with the possibility for an extension. One-third of the gardens have been allocated to a cohort of entrepreneurial refugee women where they will be launching a micro-enterprise around food production during the summer of 2015. Two-thirds of the land has been allocated for refugee and local community residents as a community garden.

The primary objectives of this project include supporting refugee integration into the wider community, providing economic opportunities to low-income refugee households in one of the lowest-income census tracts in Philadelphia, and producing an abundant variety of healthy, nutritious organic crops in a community severely lacking in access to healthy foods.  I can’t describe how rewarding this experience was, and seeing all the work finally come to fruition was awesome. We are very hopeful at NSC that this garden will be a successful experience for our clients and will help them find ways to better adjust to their new lives in Philadelphia.

Working from Home: The Battle for Productivity

With the move finally completed, things are starting to settle down at NSC as people get used to the new location. However, the new site is much smaller than what staff members are used to, and subsequently, there’s not enough room for everyone to work on site every day. As a result, we all are expected to work elsewhere for part of the week. I’ve found that while working from home has its perks  – a short commute, not having to pack a lunch – it can also have its downsides. Check out my tips below to stay on task wherever you are!

  1. Act like you’re still going to work. Trying to work from your bed while still in your pajamas sends a message to your body that it’s sleep time, not work time. Get some tea or coffee, sit yourself down at a desk, and dress in work appropriate clothes to help get in the work mindset.
  2. Have a work space. This goes along the lines of my first tip, but setting aside an area that is devoted to work will help you stay focused. Make sure that all your office needs are met (pens, paper, good lighting, etc.) to avoid a trip to the store.
  3. Minimize distractions. While it seems obvious, this is oftentimes harder than it seems. For example, don’t spend hours cultivating the ultimate Spotify work playlist… not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.
  4. Mix it up. Just because you’re working off site doesn’t mean that it has to be from home! Some people like complete silence, so perhaps working in the local library would help. Others like a little more background noise, so checking out your local coffee shop (hello coffee and free wifi!) may be an option. In short, I’ve found that changing your work environment every now and then has been incredibly helpful.
  5. COMMUNICATION. One of the downsides to working from home is that connecting with team members becomes much more difficult. After all, you can’t just walk by a colleague’s desk to ask a quick question. This is especially tough as an intern, when you have to rely at times pretty heavily on your supervisor to provide direction. Luckily, living in the age of technology makes it a lot easier to connect with colleagues! Whether it’s through email, instant messaging, or video calls, make a point to check in with colleagues at least once during the day. This helps you to stay accountable, and creates incentive to get your work done.

Life in Philadelphia

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoy living in a bigger city. Growing up in a small town my entire life, I was a little nervous that I would be too overwhelmed in Philadelphia this summer. Fortunately, I find that I love it here, below are some of my favorite places I’ve discovered thus far!

1. Reading Terminal Market. I consider myself to be extremely spoiled when it comes to food, as both my parents are fantastic cooks. Needless to say, I was not relishing the idea of cooking for myself for an entire summer, especially after already being abroad for a semester. However, I’ve found a little piece of foodie heaven here in Philly. The best part? Reading Terminal Market is only a five minute walk from where I work! This is the nation’s oldest continuously operating farmers’ market, opened in 1892.  You can literally find any kind of food you’re craving in here, and it’s all delicious. Even if you’re not hungry (but I promise, once you see some of the displays, you will be), it’s a great place to explore. I’m a sucker for this place where you can get fancy grilled cheese sandwiches, but it can get pricey here, so save this for a day when you want to treat yourself!

IMG_6452MeltKraft, home of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve ever tasted.

2. Spruce Street Harbor Park. Only just recently opened, this park is in the Penn’s Landing area, and is right along the Delaware River. Here you can find floating gardens, food trucks offering all sorts of different dishes, an arcade, hammocks to chill in, giant board games like Jenga, chess, and much more. The park is free and open to the public, and at night it transforms into an awesome area to hang out if you’re over 21. Long story short, this is a great place to spend a few hours, especially if you can snag a hammock!

IMG_6363Spruce Street Harbor Park

3. University City area. I live almost right next to the UPenn campus, and it’s great to be in an area where there are so many college students. This area has a lot of really good restaurants (both chains and local ones) that are very reasonably priced, perfect for broke college students. One of my favorites is called Hummus Grill, they serve Mediterranean food that is seriously amazing. Even if you’re not a student, the UPenn campus is a nice place to hang out, in some ways it reminds me of Dickinson’s academic quad.

4. Schuylkill River Trail. With cross country preseason in full swing, I was very worried about moving to a city and finding places to run. Luckily, I’m a very easy jog to the Schuylkill River Trail, which is a path that runs for 26.5 miles along the Schuylkill River from Center City Philadelphia to Phoenixville in Chester County. This trail is always busy, even at 7 in the morning when I go out to run! In addition to being a cool place to run (or bike), there are always events going on in the area like yoga classes, movie nights, and kayak tours. Also, if you’re a dog lover like I am, this is the perfect place to meet adorable dogs out for a walk.

IMG_6333A morning view of the Philadelphia skyline from the river trail.

5. The Free Library of Philadelphia. Let me just start by saying that THIS PLACE IS AMAZING. I love to read, and having the opportunity to visit this place has been so cool. They have an entire room devoted to history, which is basically a dream come true for me (see below). What’s also awesome is that the library offers free courses on grant writing, which is perfect for me.

IMG_6352The history room in the Free Library of Philadelphia.

These are just some of the places I’ve found while being here for the summer, and I can honestly say I really enjoy living here. Only a few more weeks left though! Thanks for reading, until next time!



Ask Questions, Reap the Rewards

This past week, I had the opportunity to speak with one of my supervisors about her experiences in the nonprofit world as part of an informational interview. As a result of our discussion, I have learned some incredible insights about nonprofit work that I’m super excited about.

Since completing my internship last summer, I have known that I am interested in doing work with grant writing and development in the nonprofit. However, I had assumed that in order to do this kind of work, workers had to be directly in a nonprofit organization. I learned from my supervisor that many nonprofits are beginning to outsource “backdoor” departments such as finance and development in order to save costs associated with hiring and retaining employees. These departments are instead handled by firms where consultants work with nonprofits to connect them with the resources they need.

NSC currently works with a consulting firm that handles their finance and development work, and as a result of my talk with my supervisor, I got the chance to sit in on the meeting with the development consultant that my supervisor works with. The meeting was extremely fascinating, and really exciting to me! I was able to learn a lot about what the consultant does through her firm, and how she become involved in this kind of work. While I am still very much interested in nonprofit work, the idea of working as a consultant, and subsequently working with a number of different organizations sounds extremely interesting to me. Long story short, even if you don’t have to, make sure you sit down, get to know your supervisor and ask questions… you never know where it will lead you!

Leaning In

This past week, I finally finished this book that my parents had given me for Christmas titled Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. The book discusses how and why the gender gap has remained prevalent within top governmental and business positions, and how women and men alike can change these conditions. I can hardly do the book justice with a one sentence summary, but it is one of my favorite books, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in gender disparities prevalent within the workforce. One of the ideas that Sandberg discusses is this notion of “leaning in,” and not holding back, as she feels that women have been conditioned to do. Instead, she notes that women need to feel more at ease with seeking out opportunities. This aspect of the book resonated with me, especially this week with my internship.

Up until now, I have been doing a lot of different kinds of work such as design, compiling data, and helping to get ready for our big move. However, one thing I had yet to do was grant writing, which is extremely important to me. In my spare time, I had compiled a list of potential grants that the organization could apply for in order to fund the refugee gardens. I love researching grants, to me it’s like a scavenger hunt. However, researching isn’t writing, and I wanted to write. I was worried that I would come across as ungrateful or selfish, and it took me a few days to work up the courage to talk to my supervisor. However, I focused on “leaning in” and speaking up about not yet having these kinds of opportunities. It wasn’t easy, and I’m sure I speak for many interns when I say the notion of critiquing your supervisor (or rather, the tasks he/she is giving you) is terrifying, but it’s worth it. Not only was my supervisor impressed with my work, he jumped at the chance to have me start writing!

This week started off being frustrating, but ended on a high note. In summation, here are some lessons I pulled from my experiences this week that I think apply for many, if not all interns:

1. Think relevancy. At some point in an internship, you’ll have to do tasks that seem mundane or pointless. Expect that, and work just as hard. However, keep in mind, especially if you’re like me and the internship is unpaid, what you’re working for is relevant experience. It’s important that your time working will help you in the long run. If it’s not, it’s time to have a talk with your supervisor.

2. Lean in, but make sure you can back it up. It’s important to put yourself out there and be confident. That being said, you have to show that you’re willing to take on these responsibilities and produce results to the best of your abilities. Having something concrete (in my case, an ongoing list of potential grants) to showcase your skills and work ethic is awesome to bring along when having these kinds of meetings. 

I’m so excited to see where these final few weeks take me, and as always I am eternally grateful to Dickinson for giving me this opportunity for the summer. Thanks for reading, until next time!

Roll with the punches

Happy belated Fourth of July! I can’t believe I only have a little more than a month left in Philadelphia, the time has gone by incredibly fast. Last week was quite busy at NSC, so unfortunately I’m playing catch up.

NSC is undergoing some major changes within the next few weeks, and the phrase “organized chaos” is an apt way to describe the daily grind. Long story short, NSC is undergoing a major face lift and revamping the current layout to make better use of the office space. However, that means that from mid July to the end of October, staff members and interns alike will be working off site. To say this involves a lot of logistics is an understatement. However, something that appeared at first to be a problem has turned into an opportunity to do work in a field that I have no experience in.

NSC needed someone to create the visuals needed to advertise the move, and inform clients about where various services would be offered. This involved designing flyers, postcards, and blog posts. I hadn’t expected to have an opportunity to do anything remotely creative such as design during my time with NSC, but I figured it would be something different to try out. As it turns out, I really enjoyed the chance to explore this area of work, and had a lot of fun using some creative juices to create the visuals for this move. Even though it’s extremely small scale, it was cool to experiment with different programs to create designs that will help out the organization. This project also allowed me to work and connect with staff members I wouldn’t normally come into contact with. I think it goes to show that you have to be willing to roll with the punches and work with what’s there, you’ll never know what you’ll get out of it!

From Slightly Flailing to Swimming: My First Week at NSC

When I had my meeting with my supervisor this week to discuss my goals for this summer, I asked him if he could give me any advice for being a successful intern. Being a former intern himself at NSC, he thought about it for a moment, and then said “Just jump right in, and don’t be afraid of flailing. We’d rather have flailing here than not swimming at all.” I really think that idea epitomized my first week at NSC. That’s not to say that I flailed all the time, but I was certainly pushed out of my comfort zone.

At NSC, to say there are a lot of moving parts is an understatement. With so many projects and programs going on simultaneously, it is inevitable that both staff members and interns like learn quickly to move between departments at a moment’s notice. In one week alone, I have done everything from assisting in an ESL class and doing grant research (yay!), to creating flyers and arranging catering for an upcoming event this weekend. To be honest, the constant motion and flexibility required was a little daunting at first. For instance, being placed in an ESL class on my first day was nerve wracking, since it wasn’t my area of expertise and I wasn’t prepared to do that kind of work this summer. But, as my supervisor so adequately phrased it, though I may have flailed at times, the other staff members certainly appreciated having someone try earnestly to help out. To be honest, I really enjoyed working with the ESL students! They were hardworking, and it was rewarding to see a student understand a concept or a word. They’re small steps, but important ones.

I think the most exciting part of the week for me was when I discovered what projects I will be working on this summer. Unlike most, if not all of the other interns, my project is unique in that it spans several different departments such as development and fundraising, as well as public relations and community outreach. In addition, I am the only intern working on this specific project (no pressure, right?). The program that I will be primarily focusing on this summer will involve the NSC refugee gardens throughout the city. Currently, NSC owns two or three garden plots in South Philadelphia. Theses plots of land have been divvied up between interested refugees who have then been able to grow various types of produce for themselves and others. However, this summer we are also opening up a new area for farming located in another part of the city! This area will be larger than the other gardens, about three acres, and we’re preparing that land for a July 1st opening. This is where I will work. My jobs this summer will involve acting as a liaison and representing NSC at various functions involving the gardens. In addition, I will be spearheading the social media presence and working to increase awareness of the gardens both within NSC and the local community. Finally, on the side I will work to research potential grants that NSC could apply for in order to help develop this program further. Amidst all of these activities, I will also work at the gardens themselves and help to develop the new farming program for refugees.

To say I’m excited would be an understatement. I am eternally grateful that I can be here this summer! I would not have made it this far without help from Dickinson, and more specifically, the Dickinson Grant Program. Without funding from them, I would not be able to live here for the summer and pursue this internship. I’m excited to see how these next few weeks go, and I will post as often as I can. Thanks for reading!





Philadelphia, Day 1

Hello, everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Claire, and I will be posting about my experiences this summer interning with the Nationalities Service Center (NSC), located in Philadelphia, PA. I’ve finally moved into my apartment for the summer, and will start work Monday. I figured this was a perfect time to blog and introduce myself and what I’ll be doing this summer.

At Dickinson, I am a rising senior, majoring in history. Outside of the classroom, I am a member of the Varsity Cross Country, Indoor, and Outdoor Track teams. In addition to running, I work in the college’s writing center as both a tutor and a Writing Associate. Finally, I work in college’s admissions office, interviewing prospective students applying to Dickinson. It goes without saying that I’m rarely bored on campus!

I became extremely interested in nonprofit work last summer, when I interned with the Cornell Extension Office back home in Buffalo, NY. During my time with this organization, I learned the general logistics of nonprofit management, and worked with refugees to help develop an urban farm program, along with other projects. This experience was life changing, and I’m excited to continue working in the nonprofit field with NSC.

NSC provides social, educational, and legal services to immigrants and refugees. I will be working within both the Refugee Legal Services and Grants Management departments, and will subsequently have a wide range of responsibilities. In my work with the Refugee Legal Services team, I will be working directly with refugees who are in the midst of applying for their green cards, while with the Grants Management department, I’ll work on numerous projects including prospect research and writing grant proposals. Needless to say, I’m anticipating that no two days will be the same during my time here.

I cannot describe how excited I am to have this internship opportunity, I know that it’s going to be a very busy and rewarding summer. I will be posting about once a week about my work with NSC, please feel free to comment and ask questions or offer suggestions. Thanks for reading!