Top 10 Takeaways From My Time As NASFAA's 2013 Policy Intern

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As you are reading this, I will be getting ready to begin my last week as the 2013 NASFAA Dallas Martin Fund for Education (DME) Policy Intern. After this upcoming week I will no longer get to wake and walk down Connecticut Avenue to work. I won’t get to sit in on Policy Team meetings and participate in the proactive policy discussions. I won’t get to take visits to Capitol Hill to discuss current legislation with the NASFAA members. I won’t get to take post-work runs down to the National Mall and back.

As I begin wrapping everything up before my departure, I felt it only appropriate to continue the tradition begun by last year’s DME intern Margot O’Meara and provide my top 10 takeaways from my time working as the 2013 NASFAA DME Policy Intern.

  1. Financial aid can be fun! While this is something I’ve always believed, my experience at the NASFAA 2013 National Conference, my interactions with the Training and Regulatory Assistance department, and my work on the 2013 National Profile Briefing has only furthered it. If you know your audience, keep on track with your purpose, and have a passion for your subject matter, everyone will walk away appreciating and enjoying what they’ve participated in. 
  2. An association is only as strong as its members. While the staff of NASFAA works very hard, so do the committees, task forces, and entire membership. Seeing the many member volunteers that came into the NASFAA office over the summer for meetings and advocacy events was very moving. An association whose members feel strongly enough to travel across the country and assist with the mission is clearly doing something right. It showed me that members truly value NASFAA and actively show their support--just as much as NASFAA values its membership.
  3. Amazing experiences can happen to anyone. If someone had told me a year ago I’d be the recipient of this amazing internship I would have laughed at them and said: Things like that don’t happen to everyday students like me. But, in retrospect, I can acknowledge that with hard work, careful planning, great support, and a clear idea of what you want, you can achieve your goals. Thousands of interns arrive in the D.C. each summer having taken the time to research and apply for an internship that directly aligns with their goals, and many find their experience here more than fulfilling.
  4. You must always write to your audience. No two documents I wrote for NASFAA had the exact same audience, and that meant I had to quickly reevaluate my writing style each time. Our National Profile Briefing required a much different approach than the book review I wrote and the policy pieces I assisted with. These experiences have shown me that if you can’t write in a method that engages and interests your audience, they won’t take away the message you’ve worked so hard to create.
  5. Office communication is essential. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the current projects you’re assigned but you must remember that many areas of an organization cross from one department to another. Questions about membership can spill over into communications department territory and training questions can go hand in hand with those for the policy department, etc. This means in order to be successful everyone must talk to each other, share what’s going on, and collaborate so the association can produce the best outcome possible.
  6. Acronyms can make your head swim! Before coming to the district I’d always heard “there’s an association for anything and everything” and boy is it true. Furthermore none of them refer to themselves by their organization’s full name. Within one week of being here I had so many four, five, and six-letter acronyms floating around in my head that I couldn’t see straight, let alone speak straight. In addition, as the NASFAA policy team will attest, pronunciation is not my strong suit and this made conversation with me quite comical at times. So if anyone reading this is looking for a side project, I think a D.C. acronym dictionary would be essential (along with explaining phrases like “The Hill”, “The district”, “the Lincoln”, etc.)
  7. Living and working in the district is amazing. I always had a feeling I would love being in this city, but after spending 11 weeks here it is undeniable. There is an amazing energy throughout the district and most of the workers you run into have the same “do-good” type of attitude, which makes for friendly conversation and plenty of opportunities to learn about lots of different causes.
  8. Navigating the district isn’t as hard as I expected it to be. With some help from my GPS and a constant reminder to avoid the diagonal streets, I am proud to say I only got drastically lost a handful of times …. However when someone asked me for driving directions a few days ago I quickly realized I had no clue which streets were one-way streets and in which direction they went since it makes no difference when you’re on foot!
  9. Visiting Capitol Hill is an experience everyone should have at least once. It really wasn’t as scary as I thought, and staffers do truly want to hear what associations and their constituents have to say as long as it’s thoughtful and well planned. In a similar fashion to the many financial aid administrators and associations in D.C., congressional staffers know what it is like to work countless hours on a particular issue and how difficult it can be to get your message out there.
  10. The members of NASFAA are amazing! I feel so lucky to have interacted with so many of you during my time in the office and at the conference. Seeing the compassion and tireless efforts put forth by aid administrators to help their students is something that has never been lost upon me and I know is not lost upon the NASFAA staff. Without all of you working every day to do the best for your students NASFAA wouldn’t exist, and I wish I could personally thank each and every one of you.

I want to thank those who donated to the Dallas Martin Fund for Education and made this internship possible. And I’m happy to share with everyone that--despite my intern status--I never made copies, never ran errands, and only picked up coffee twice! It’s been an unforgettable summer.

Charlotte

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