The rising sun lights the elm trees along the National Mall in Washington, DC
Student Voices

A Look Back at my SBS in DC Experience

Farah Sabir and eight other University of Massachusetts students pose together in a group selfie

It’s been a month since I pulled an all-nighter—struggling to pack all the memories I’d accumulated from my summer in Washington, DC into suitcases.

It’s been a month since I had to say, “Goodbye for now!” to my fellow cohort members turned good friends as they stood outside the front steps of our house on I Street.

It’s been a month since I took the scenic, but tiring, eight-hour Amtrak ride from Union Station in Washington, DC to South Station in Boston. As we enter the new application cycle for next year’s SBS in DC cohort, I wanted to look back at my experience with the program.

Internship Challenges

As a refresher—because it’s been a month—SBS in DC is a summer internship program where students from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) at UMass Amherst have the opportunity to live among a cohort of their peers in the nation’s capital. As a member of the summer 2021 cohort, my internship experience was a little unique. I got to network with alumni and attend meaningful events in person, but my media internship with a global refugee resettlement agency remained remote throughout the summer. In fact, my colleagues on the communications team were all residing outside DC during my internship, and practically all the work was done on Microsoft Teams. I believe the virtual setup made communication with my supervisors a little difficult at times. There was a period of time where I didn’t feel like I was getting enough assignments to work on, or making quality connections with the people in my office.

Advocating for Myself

By mid-summer, I arranged to meet with one of my supervisors. That was when I presented to him a “bucket list” of very specific tasks, projects, and experiences I wanted to get out of my time working with their organization. On the list, I included bullets like “Assist with the creation of at least one video” or “Develop and pitch to at least one media list”. Noticing that some of their social media platforms weren’t active, I also pitched some long-term projects like researching best LinkedIn page practices for the organization to incorporate in the future—should they choose to develop a greater presence on that platform.

My supervisor loved my suggestions, and tried to work with me to make them happen. Overall this proactive step of defining my goals for the summer, and this productive approach to the meeting, showed my supervisor a level of professionalism from me that he hadn’t seen before.

I also took it upon myself to network with other members of the communications team. By working with the video manager, I got to sift through hours of an interview with a World War II refugee, and then spend weeks condensing her incredible story into a three minute and twenty-eight second video montage. During a conversation with the program communications director, I asked how I could properly present this refugee’s story—because those three minutes and twenty-eight seconds didn’t seem to do it justice. She proposed that in addition to the video, I work on a blog post for the website. I did, and though I’m still waiting for it to be published, I’m very proud of it.

Lizette, a University of Massachusetts student interning in Washington DC, poses with activists at the White House
I posed for this photo with participants at the White House vigil

Sometimes, I even expanded beyond the communications team. Through a coffee chat with the advocacy and policy manager, I was granted the opportunity to livestream a vigil in front of the White House honoring the 70th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention. There I listened to refugees tell their stories firsthand, and met with faith leaders and members of an immigration coalition.

My Biggest Lesson

After covering that event at the White House, it was back to some less exciting, more administrative work. I had to caption and enter information into a database for 121 photos we received from a recent community development project in Myanmar.

I told my alum mentor about this over coffee.

Side Note: Getting assigned an alum mentor is just one of the many perks that come with SBS in DC. My mentor, Matt Bonaccorsi, graduated from UMass Amherst in 2013. Today, he is the communications director for the office of Congressman Jim McGovern.)

He gave me the advice that I would consider to be my biggest takeaway from the program.

"Sometimes, as an intern, it’s less about picking up new skills and more about familiarizing yourself with the environment and the jargon,” he said. Then Matt added:

With the small projects that you’re assigned, it’s important to give 110%, because sometimes it’s those small things—the things that you least want to do—that your supervisors need the most.

With a renewed sense of motivation, I sat down and wrote out 121 captions, making sure to be as helpful as possible with the details I included.

At my last team meeting the next Monday, I was specifically recognized for my “amazing work” with the captions. Everyone on the team really appreciated what I had done to make their jobs easier.

I realized that Matt taught me a lesson on humility. No work was above me, and this helped me to build good rapport with my team.

Apply! Apply! Apply!

SBS in DC was truly a transformative experience that taught me so many real-world lessons about professional work environments. I myself have been nominating students to apply for next year’s cohort, but I’d highly encourage interested SBS students currently on campus to consider the program as well!