At the end of July, my internship with the North Shore AFL-CIO in Cleveland officially came to a close. On one hand, I left more confident than ever about my next steps and determined to have a successful senior year at Pitt. On the other hand, I had become so comfortable in Cleveland and at the North Shore office that stepping away seemed bittersweet. With this final blogpost, I hope to synthesize these conflicting feelings by addressing the key takeaways from my internship experience.
Above all, these several months have solidified my desire to work in organized labor. I am open to different forms this might take, whether in an office setting like the North Shore or out in the field where I could find organizing opportunities with affiliate unions. Regardless, I am more confident than ever that, as stated in my first post, I belong in the labor movement as “a conscious agent helping to facilitate change.” I continue to deliberate whether or not graduate school has a necessary place in this path. Brian, the North Shore Campaigns Director whom I spent many workdays alongside, noted to me that joining the AFL-CIO was his first serious chance to practice the skills developed in his Public Administration Masters program. Undoubtedly, a similar program would benefit me too were I to seek a staff position in organized labor someday. However, there is also appeal in building directly upon my internship experience after graduation and seeking work in the fast-growing labor movement. I will spend the next period weighing the pros and cons of each prospective career trajectory and determining which best fits my personal and professional needs.
An important area for further growth identified during my internship is ‘self-starting.’ On a typical workday, I had only a loose agenda to work with, which meant I could dabble in various assignments and long-term projects without the pressure of strict deadlines and without formal guidance from North Shore staff. As a result, it was almost entirely up to me how productive a given day turned out. For the most part, I could successfully focus on the task at hand, but there remained the occasional hours of procrastination and limbo. To be sure, the office environment is unlike any other job I’ve worked before or the academic setting, where I pride myself on the diligent way in which I study and move from assignment to assignment. Rounding out my professional skills will require that I develop consistency when it comes to working independently and get creative when there are moments of uncertainty or ambiguity.
An especially unique aspect of my internship was that I virtually always found myself to be the youngest person in the room. I was the only intern in a small office populated by staff with decades of combined experience in organized labor. When we ventured beyond the office, meanwhile, it was often to meetings of union retirees where I had the pleasure of conversing with longtime activists who offered a wealth of knowledge and history. They had questions for me too, namely what drew me to the labor movement and what they could do to get young people like me more involved. I always gave the best answers I could, but there was a great deal of pressure in discussing the labor movement’s ‘age gap’ with people who have been part of the struggle longer than I have been alive. I will carry what they shared with me and what I learned about myself in the process for a very long time.
My internship was an unquestionable personal, academic, and professional success, but it also proved how much more I have to learn about the world of organized labor, where I hope to spend much of my adult life. While I am somewhat sad to close the door on Cleveland (for now anyway!), I am excited to enter my final year at Pitt, think more about this experience, and follow wherever my conclusions take me in 2023. In the meantime, I would like to once again thank Mr. David Frederick, the Frederick Internship Committee, and the University Honors College for making this summer possible.