Name: Melissa Padron
Hometown: Havana, Cuba
What is your major: Bachelor of Science in Psychology
Where did you intern? What did you do there?
I interned with the FL Student Public Interest Research Groups (FL Student PIRGs) as a faculty liaison. A characteristic of PIRG is the student-led outreach, which directly enhances the work students and faculty collaborate on to advance a reciprocal delivery of information and civic action. This was exactly the task my role was built upon: building the bridges between deans, professors, students, and media sources to use our voices in favor of a fair democracy. The internship took place virtually. Through Google Hangout, the FL PIRG team conducted our weekly meetings, volunteer activities, phone banking plans, and activist classes. Although noticeably the transition to online communication has left a mark in the strong “human quality” involved in direct outreach, it has also allowed for a broader outreach since everything is handled from home and people now have the commodity to go to a link an get all information they need.
How did you get your internship?
A PIRG organizer spoke at one of my classes during a class announcement about the importance of voting. I immediately knew I wanted to participate because I had been searching for opportunities to get involved in this election. I am not a U.S. citizen currently. Coming from a country where there is hunger for democracy, it was important for me to find a way to contribute to the solution to the problem of young people not showing up to the polls. I was thinking about this, and my experiences in my home-country, and decided to apply through a link the PIRG organizer gave the class. Promptly, I received a call for an interview and got to work!
What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process?
There will always be a place in an internship where your skills will shine. And in the process, once you decide to be engaged you will have also decided to learn. In the end, you will be great at doing the things you were good at, and good at things you might not have realized you were capable of achieving.
What projects did you work on?
With the New Voters Project, I worked on the Get Out The Vote campaign, which is the largest student vote effort in the country. Additionally, I collaborated with the South Florida Media Network propelling a call to action for all young voters to be informed and active this election year. But to maximize the knowledge and professional experience, all of the interns and volunteers collaborated to some extent in all the activities and projects. With our phone banking events, for example, we helped register over 2,000 new Florida voters, 1,000 of those in the last 72 hours.
How did your internship connect back to your coursework?
The course itself had an activist course required for all interns as one of its components. But the material taught was not only pertinent to running campaigns or engaging in civic action; it emphasized effective communication skills, which are useful at all times.
What was the coolest thing about your internship or that happened during your internship?
The best thing about my internship with PIRG was the transparency of the work we did. Beginning at the interview before I was offered the internship, there was always clarity in the work we would be doing and a strong guide through all the new experiences and tasks we took on. One of my favorite experiences was participating in FIU’s Honors College podcast, More Than a Major. It was the perfect vehicle to speak casually about topics of such importance, like the election and the aspirations our generation has for the country.
What did you like most about your experience?
I think the specificity of our message when speaking to students and faculty. Part of creating action is delivering a good story people will care about, and part of creating empathy is doing so with clarity without losing substance. That is exactly what we were trained to do. I approached the topic with comprehension of the magnitude of the problem but with a concise solution to create momentum in our generation.
What did you learn about yourself?
I learned that if what we decide to work on is something we truly care about, there will always be a way to make it work successfully. I joined during the home stretch of the election year, so there was pressure to reach everyone we could in a short window of time. Consequently, I had to balance academics, the internship, and the overall unusual time we are living in and other extracurriculars. That made the growth all the more significant to me.
How did the position increase your professional confidence?
I think sometimes we fear asking for something in anticipation we might be told “no.” But I learned quickly there was no room for that sort of hesitation while reaching out to faculty and students. If we hesitate, we transmit a message that often diminishes the importance with which an issue should be treated. I now have that skill to make a strong ask, which is certainly difficult to attain, but imperative in the professional field.
How did you expand your professional network?
The connections I made with my colleagues and professional organizers at PIRG opened doors to other internship possibilities dealing with other pressing issues, like climate change awareness campaigns. Through this internship, I got to meet with heads of departments, communicate with deans, and work directly with college administration. This exposure to people who know how to push students to their best selves forms part of that expansion of network beyond the usual interactions with those within my own college or immediate group. I also had the chance to participate in the Leader Lecture Series with FIU’s Department of Public Policy and Administration.
How did it help you prove yourself in the “real-world?”
I learned communication and organizational skills above all else. These were critical in actually accomplishing the outreach we planned, but also incredibly valuable in the professional and even personal aspects of life. I also learned to always ask; the only outcomes are that you end in the same position you started, in which case you can learn and continue to move forwards, or you create something new.