Setting the Foundation for the Future

Every time I am asked what I would like to do in the future, the first words that leave my mouth, without hesitation, are always, "Work in education." I specify that I want to increase accessibility and quality of education for low income and minority students, but when I am pressed further about what I would want to be or in what capacity I would want to do that, no singular, definitive answer comes to mind.

While I may not have that question answered, I’ve learned a myriad of things during my internship. Here are some of the most important things I’ve taken away from this internship.

A lot of work is done behind the scenes.

In the short time I’ve been at the Mayor’s Office, I’ve been fortunate enough to sit-in on numerous meetings. It is fascinating getting to see the important conversations that occur before major decisions are made or legislation is introduced. On the other hand, I was also able to participate in the less glamorous, yet still just as crucial, work that takes place outside of the public view. Witnessing how I contribute to the office validates much of the work I do. Although I'm just an intern, I have come to see how the research my boss asks me to complete on a particular issue or person informs her decisions and plays a role in the conversations that lead to larger action. I saw how the seemingly small tasks and arduous labor that go into coordinating a ceremony or program coalesce to create a beautiful event for those in attendance.

Ask questions!

I was afraid of asking too many questions at the start of my internship. I felt as if I was bothering my supervisor and that I should exude self-sufficiency. However, I soon realized that you’re encouraged to ask questions and to be curious, especially in an internship. You’ll never know what you’re doing wrong if you don’t ask questions. Also, you’ll find that the quality of your work becomes better much more quickly when you ask questions. By being inquisitive, I learned how to be more effective. Most importantly, I’ve gained a better understanding of my work.

Reach outside the work of your office.

My office often works closely with other departments and through these collaborations, I’ve found that I am very interested in what these other offices do. If you're interested in another office's work, ask if you could shadow someone who works there for a day or if you could help them with a project. By asking the Senior Policy Advisor on Health if I could assist her on a major project, I discovered a potential policy area I might be interested in pursuing. You can even work on issues you’re interested in within your respective office. I asked to research and brief my boss on legislation that dealt with sexual assault and student safety on college campuses. Although my office is not currently dealing with this specific issue, it is a topic I am passionate about and I believe that it was important to discuss. Your experience in an internship is what you make of it. It is vital to make the most of your short time in an office by finding and working on things you’re interested in.

As my time at the Mayor’s Office of Education comes to a close, one of the most crucial things I’ve learned is that whatever you do, you won't be there forever so you should do your best to make an impact in your time there. For eight years, my boss has been pioneering educational efforts in San Francisco. She has forged a strong relationship between the City and the School Board, a partnership that will be the foundation of many projects for years to come. Although she will not always be the Mayor’s Advisor or a School Board Member, she has created the infrastructure necessary for others to carry on her work. In the same way, it is important to leave a lasting impression in your internship.

When I’m asked what I would want to be, my answer remains just as uncertain. Although I don’t know whether I want to teach or create policy, work in government or in a nonprofit organization, I am confident that the things I’ve learned in this internship and the opportunities I have been given as a Local Government Fellow have set the groundwork for my career no matter what I choose to do.

Sally Ching is a senior at UC Berkeley studying political science, education, and public policy. She is currently interning with the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Education as a Matsui Local Government Fellow.