SBS in DC: Before DC
Since the summer of 2018, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) at UMass Amherst has sent twenty or so students to Washington DC to intern along with a cohort of their peers. Spearheaded by Rebecca Bell, the Associate Director of Career and Professional Development, this ten-week program offers hands-on experience and robust networking opportunities in a city bustling with professional relationships. Students have previously interned in and around Capitol Hill and at various nonprofit human resource organizations — among other internship sites. Unfortunately, last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the cohort was required to stay at home and complete their internships virtually. This summer, although many internships continue to be remote, we will still have the opportunity to live together in the US capital city — in a house fully funded by generous alumni donations. I’m a member of the 2021 cohort, and this is SBS in DC: Before DC.
1. The Application Process
Before applying to any of our own individual internships, we first had to apply to get into the program — a selective process that started way back in October 2020. Now I have a few words of advice for any SBS sophomores and juniors who are interested in joining the 2022 cohort:
Apply: It sounds so simple, but what I mean is, don’t be afraid to apply. This may be a renowned program within SBS, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be in it. One of the things we talk about a lot as a cohort is thar even if you don’t have extensive experience or copious amounts of self-confidence, you deserve amazing opportunities. There’s absolutely no harm in trying.
Apply early: I will admit that I waited until the day of the application deadline to schedule a meeting with this year’s SBS in DC Program Fellow, Farah Sabir. Her role is essentially to assist Rebecca Bell throughout the entire duration of the program, and she helped me by providing feedback on my application before I submitted it. Her advice was so valuable; I learned how the selection committee liked students’ resumes to be formatted, and what to highlight in my personal statement. However, because I waited until the last minute, that meant rushing to make big changes before the deadline. It gave me quite the adrenaline rush, but I would not recommend doing what I did.
Don’t over-prepare for the interview: Before my interview, I wrote down detailed answers to the questions I anticipated. Then, I memorized them. This is indicative of how nervous I was at the time, but somehow I still managed to pull it together and let my personality shine naturally. I’ve done a lot more interviews since then, so I’d encourage people to remember that interviews are a conversation—not a test you need to pass. And the topic of the conversation is you! You know yourself better than anyone else!
2. My Favorite Class Sessions
After getting accepted into the program, we were automatically enrolled in a one-credit spring class to prepare us for the summer program. Led by Rebecca and Farah, we meet every Thursday to cover various professional etiquette and development topics. Here are some of my favorite class sessions so far:
Identity and Bias: This session was really well-timed with UMass Amherst’s Wellbeing Wednesday that occurred just the day before. We welcomed guest facilitator Xiomara DeLobato, who guided us through a mindful and interactive workshop. I got to learn a lot about myself and how to form meaningful connections with others. Some activities included discussing the significance of our own names, and asking ourselves and each other, “What can I leave behind in order to be more present in the moment?”
Impostor Syndrome: This is a common feeling among young people in professional settings. It’s a feeling of doubt—of not belonging in a particular space or like you don’t deserve the position you rightfully earned. We began the session by discussing in small groups specific examples within our own lives when we’ve experienced impostor syndrome. By the end, we came back together as a whole class to share each of our proudest accomplishments, more or less combating the feelings of doubt we brought up earlier. It was a very wholesome experience to have everyone cheer you on as you relay things about yourself that make you proud. Our Zoom chat was overflowing with encouraging words and less-than-three emoticons.
Alumni Panel: For this session, Rebecca and Farah invited recent UMass Amherst alumni to come speak with us. I loved hearing about each of their journeys! Ella Khorov, for instance, was a member of the 2018 cohort. She found the program to be so influential that she did everything in her power to come back again and intern in DC the next summer. She was last year’s program fellow before Farah, and since graduating, she decided to take a big leap of faith by finding housing and roommates on Craigslist and moving to DC altogether. The other panelists were Tenzin Dawa Thargay, a Commonwealth Honors College graduate and Fulbright Scholar, Koray Rosati, a legislative correspondent for Congressman Jake Auchincloss, Christopher Kosteva, a press and digital Fellow for Congresswoman Terri Sewell, and Alfonso Hidalgo, a communications professional with experience at some of the largest public relations firms in DC. Needless to say, I found great value in the mini networking sessions we had after the panel.
The SBS in DC class has exposed me to a lot of resources that I would not have known about or had access to otherwise such as:
Clifton Strengths Finder Assessment: Rebecca arranged for each of us to take this web-based assessment that provides insight into our top five greatest strengths according to psychologist Don Clifton. For example, my number one strength came out to be “futuristic.” This means I am inspired by possibilities of what could be, and I use that enthusiasm to inspire others. This is great insight to have when applying to or interviewing for DC internships. I will be interning at a nonprofit whose mission is to provide a beacon of hope for the refugees and immigrants who use their services. During the interview, I connected my being futuristic back to their organizational value of hope.
Office of National Scholarship Advisement (ONSA): Speaking of valuable future opportunities, office director Madalina Akli spoke with our cohort about applying to national scholarships. Probably the scholarship most familiar to the masses is the Fulbright US Student Program, which provides opportunities to teach, study, or conduct research in over 130 countries worldwide. But that’s certainly not all ONSA has to offer. Interested students can email ONSA to schedule an appointment with a scholarship advisor.
My Cohort: Last but not least, we have the group that I’m so grateful to be a part of and draw support from. These have been unprecedented times — as none of us have even met in person yet, but I’m beyond excited to spend the summer with the whole crew.
4. Thank You
Finally, I’d like to give a sincere shoutout to Rebecca Bell and Farah Sabir for taking a chance on me, for finding all these opportunities for me to apply to, for connecting me with so many people, for coming up with the most original ice breakers, for making necessary adjustments to the class depending on how we were all feeling like by adding stretch breaks or cancelling a session for a much needed rest, and most importantly, for giving me tools to develop myself professionally and personally.
I highly recommend this program to any interested and eligible SBS student. I’d also be happy to answer questions once next year’s application term rolls around. Until then, stay tuned for more accounts of my summer in DC!