My Summer Work Experience with North Carolina Scholastic Media Association

It might be a little unorthodox to write a reflection on something you haven’t completed( since I will still be an employee in the fall), but I think it’s important for my own benefit and the benefit of those reading this blog for me to recap my summer experience working with the North Carolina Scholastic Media Association.

First, a little background information. The North Carolina Scholastic Media Association, or NCSMA, is a non-profit organization based in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Journalism School. However, the association exists to serve high school journalist and their journalism advisers/ teachers (which includes newspaper, lit mag, broadcast, online, and yearbook) from the entire state of North Carolina.

I’ve been working with the organization since August of 2011 when I entered UNC as a first-year student.  But despite the fact that I’m from Maryland, my history with the NCSMA goes back a little further. I was one of twelve students selected to participate in the 2010 Chuck Stone Program for Diversity in Media and Education, a program that is run by faculty at the J-school in conjunction with the NCSMA. Luckily for me, and many other alumni of the program coming from outside of the state, this program is open to students across the country.

And that brings us back to what I’ve been doing the past 10 weeks of my summer. In addition to the 10 hours/ week  I worked during the school year, I also decided to take on the responsibility of working with NCSMA over the summer.

And a huge responsibility it was.

Anyone who has experienced tech week for a production, pre-season for a sport, or the week before exams is probably familiar with the term “Hell Week.” Well, at NCSMA, that pretty much describes June-mid July.

The NCSMA runs 4 different programs during the summer, and all of them require a great deal of preparation. Whether it’s the Chuck Stone program, which serves 12 students, or the North Carolina Scholastic Media Institute with serves around 300 students and advisers, you can believe there are a lot of hours being clocked in the Spring and Summer months.

So many people work to help put our programs together, whether it’s NCSMA’s Director/only full-time employee or the faculty who teach sessions, the programs couldn’t exist without the hard work of a large network of people. As an assistant, working 40+ hrs a weeks instead of my normal 10, I became a part of that network.

While the title of assistant maybe doesn’t sound as interesting as “fellow” or “intern,” I am, in hindsight, immensely proud of the work I’ve done this summer.  While it would be impossible( and possibly  to recap my daily tasks, I would like outline the broader skills I’ve developed this summer and some points of my personal growth.

1) (really excellent) Communication:

While I’m certainly not trying to make it sound like I didn’t know how to communicate before this experience, I would like to point out how I’ve improved. As I’ve mentioned before, the NCSMA only has one full-time employee and the office relies on assistants, currently only undergraduate students, in order to run. Because of this, I’ve become very accustomed to taking directions straight from my boss and being responsible for communicating my progress on work assignments directly back to her. During the summer programs this becomes even more important because of the nature of our work. We deal with a very large volume of paperwork, emails, registration forms, payments, release forms, etc and if I had a question or needed something clarified it was imperative that I asked. Often times, I can be hesitant to ask questions because I fear sounding stupid or naïve. But this summer I really learned the importance of keeping open communication. It is far better to ask a stupid question than to make a huge mistake and have to correct that error.

Sharing ideas:  I consider this to be a subset of communication. Again, working in a small office means that everything you do has a large impact on the product or service you put out. Because we worked directly with my boss, my co-workers and I were able to give feedback that actually mattered. I really get the impression that in some internships and jobs that feedback is really a one-way street. However, my office is really great about discussing ideas and talking things over in a free-flowing exchange which allows me to share my input while I also learning from the ideas of others.

2) A Taste of the Real World

In a way, it was nice that I wasn’t an intern. And not just because I received a paycheck. It was nice because I didn’t have a title to hide behind. I wasn’t “just an intern.” I represented the organization I worked for and because of that I took a lot of pride in my work and conducted myself in a serious manner. I was able to work alongside some great teachers, professors, journalists and communications professionals who treated me as a colleague of sorts. Sometimes it’s just nice to see yourself as something other than a student because eventually you will finish school and break away from that student-teacher dynamic.

3) A Depth of Knowledge

Honestly the high school I went to did not have a serious journalism program ,and I am unsure if Maryland even has a Scholastic Media Association. But, in N.C., they take their high school journalism VERY SERIOUSLY. It is a big deal and it’s treated as such. Learning  some of the ins-and-outs of high school journalism has improved my appreciation for free press on the high school level and increased my admiration for the high schoolers whose knowledge of InDesign and AP Style would put me to shame. As someone who has always loved having a deep knowledge of specific things( even if it’s something as useless as ice hockey or 90s post core music), it’s really made an impression on me how you can have a job that allows you to focus on and  grow and develop a field that you feel passionate about.

In Conclusion

Even though I know things will be much calmer in the office when I get back to school in late August , it’s exciting to know that I will be “veteran” assistant and will be able to help train any young blood we bring into the office.

I really believe reflections are important, so if you’ve just recently finished a summer internship or work experience, I encourage you to write down what your learned during your time. Who knows, it might be more than you think.

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