The ACUHO-I Internship

Many national Student Affairs organizations offer the opportunity for graduate students and future grads to earn experience in a functional area via a paid summer internship. Two of the most well known internship programs are NODA and ACUHO-I; in New Student Orientation and Housing and Residential Life respectively. Between my first and second years in graduate school, I went through the grueling and competitive NODA and ACUHO-I internship interview processes, and at the end, was offered 5 positions. I had the privilege of completing my internship at a medium-sized, primarily residential, state school in south Georgia, United States. The purpose of this post is to share strategies for making the most out of the ACUHO-I and NODA internship.

Creating Community
Uprooting yourself and moving to a new environment for 3 months is a big deal, and it might be helpful to think about how important community is to you now, and what that will look like at your internship. I was 14 hours away from home, 3 hours away from anyone familiar, and not keen on driving long distances. Prior to me arriving at my internship, I was given the contact information of people who worked in the department, and I never used it. That was mistake number 1; don’t allow the busyness of your semester to prevent you from preparing for those three months at your internship. Building relationships (no matter how superficial) with the people in your new department will make this transition significantly easier.

For me, it was also important to find a spiritual family and home for those three months, and that is something I did prepare before arriving in Georgia. I searched the interwebs for churches similar to mine at home in Philadelphia, and came across a church where I felt I would fit. The first thing I did after putting down my bags in my new apartment was drive to Sunday morning service at this church. Two of the people who greeted me on my first day became my friends and support system for that whole summer; I also foresee us being lifelong friends. For you, if there is something that is the foundation of your life at home, please be sure to plan for that at your internship; you’ll need some semblance of similarity when everything feels foreign. It could be a dance class, a weekly open mic, small group, volunteering at a rescue mission or any number of things, make sure that you find your people and your place while you’re away.

Know Your Role
This is another way that the busyness of the semester distracted me from setting myself up for success. I asked too few questions about what would be expected of me when I arrived, to the point where I did not have any idea at all of the work I’d be doing. Even though I would not have been able to start the work until I arrived, if I had a clear picture of what I’d be tasked with, I would have been able to think of things and mentally prepare for the summer. This may not make sense to everyone, but trust me, there are some people who like to dream and imagine how they’ll do specific projects and research similar ones. If you’re one of those people, there are so many opportunities for you to ask questions about your role, be sure to use them wisely.

Ask for What You Need
This did not occur to me until the semester following my internship, but that was a perfect opportunity to gain some of the skills that I would not gain in my GA or other internships. I had nothing but time on my hands for the summer, so working on projects with supervisors that would teach me skills necessary for the job search would have been the perfect way to spend that time. If there are areas that you need more experience in (think: student conduct, supervision, budget management, assessment and program evaluation)  ask your supervisors for projects that will give you the experience. When you go home, you'll be grateful that if you took away the name of the internship and/or the university, your experience would speak for itself. 

Of course during this process, you'll be told what to do and more often than not, you'll do it. However, be sure to take this internship opportunity as a time to grow as a professional, figure yourself out personally and prepare for your future. Although it is summer, it is far from a break, and if you look at it as a concentrated time to do some amazing work, you'll get a lot out of it. 

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