During the final year of my master’s program at Lehigh, I was fortunate enough to have one of the most unique culminating experiences that a globally-minded graduate student in the College of Education could have: an internship at United Nations Headquarters. My internship was with the United Nations Department of Public Information, Outreach Division, NGO Relations Section (UN DPI/NGO), and within the Office, I held the position of Briefings Intern. In this role, I worked directly alongside UN Staff on the NGO Relations Briefings Team during all stages of large-scale event planning to prepare, implement and facilitate a series of live webcast, weekly global briefings for large audiences of NGO Representatives, UN Staff, and university students, staff and faculty.
My role in event planning and coordination at the UN was multifaceted. As the Briefings Intern, I was designated as the in-office researcher, writer and visual designer of briefings materials. I was also directly involved in the planning, logistics and facilitation of the event. In addition to set-up and take-down, during the briefing, I served as a technical lead and rapporteur, operating speakers’ presentations and audiovisuals, and taking notes and then writing the post-briefing website summaries. Other tasks included working together with colleagues to create interactive activities, taking photographs, co-managing social media platforms, participating in UN Staff meetings, and providing support to NGOs and Youth Representatives. Otherwise, outside of my immediate office, I attended a live filming of a series of TED Talks, and also helped facilitate the Season 2 world premiere of the hit TV show, “Revolution,” which the UN consulted on in order to provide the writers with a realistic view of war, refugee camps, poverty and communicable diseases. I also helped coordinate "Education for Peace" in commemoration of the International Day of Peace, featuring youth from all over the world, and attended UNICEF's "Erasing Girls' Barriers to Education."
This briefings season was unique from others before it in a variety of ways. The Section aspired to make the briefings more engaging, interactive, collaborative and inclusive, so my special projects primarily focused on improving event materials, activities, processes and procedures. Previously, the briefings materials were black-and-white, text-only documents, set in a standard layout and format. However, with the onset of my internship, for the first time ever, I was able to introduce color, graphics, a new layout, and an overall updated look and feel. These updates included the introduction of relevant images and graphics; the use of newer fonts; the integration of headings and subheadings to help with readability and flow; a reduction and/or an explanation of jargon; and the implementation of user-friendly language and formatting. Other first-time changes to the materials included the addition of two new content sections: “Important Resources on This Topic” and “What You Can Do to Help.” These areas were added to encourage post-briefing, independent exploration on the topic, and to promote a deeper understanding of the content and topic itself. We also wanted to inform participants of action-oriented ways to become involved. Under the guidance of my team, and in the spirit of morale and inclusion, I also proposed an NGO Briefings Proposal Form, which was then piloted the following season. Feedback from NGOs, Youth Representatives and supervisors about the aforementioned modifications was highly positive. Most notably, the changes significantly increased briefings attendance and outreach; resulted in the first-ever inclusion of briefings materials along with UN publications in the Resource Centre; and with the new-found classification of materials as an educational resource, NGOs began to disseminate the information to the public. As one example, one NGO Representative shared that she now disseminates the materials each week to her e-mail list of one million individuals.
What I enjoyed the most about my internship in NGO Relations was being given the opportunity to pilot various projects aimed at improving the overall briefings experience. My colleagues were extremely receptive to my ideas and suggestions – and actually encouraged me to provide them – and afforded me a high level of creative license and responsibility. For me personally, there is nothing more satisfying than innovation, collaboration and especially, visible progress – the ability to go back to the beginning of a project at the end of your time working on it, and to actually be able to tangibly see the positive changes. Also, having the chance to pilot something that will continue to have a major impact, and then to pass it off and watch it grow long after my assignment, is really, really exciting for me. This experience accelerated my knowledge-base, and professional and personal growth like no other. In support of briefings preparation, I read numerous UN Reports, Resolutions, Documents and UN news articles, kept current on initiatives, and watched videos and/or attended live events on all sorts of global topics. The UN is non-partisan and neutral; therefore, when disseminating information to the public via the Office's social media platforms, I had to consider the source. From this, even the most minor bias in written or spoken communication is now magnified to me, and my critical reading and investigative skills are significantly enhanced. Similarly, it was both challenging and rewarding to learn how to write and design materials for a global audience, removing myself from my own Western bias, and deeply contemplating things like universal graphics and neutral language choice. By being immersed in a work environment this diverse – not just in a travel or vacation situation– I learned a lot about myself and working across and within other cultures. Further, I learned how to be prepared, without notice, to interact with someone from one of the UN’s 193 member countries, including diplomats, high-level officials, NGOs, educators, students and individuals from the entertainment industry.
This internship was the ultimate field experience, allowing me to capitalize on my background in student-driven, internationally-focused program development and implementation; my education in international relations, language and culture gained from the University of Pittsburgh and La Universitat Pompeu Fabra; and my knowledge of twenty-first century skills and education, acquired from Lehigh’s Teaching, Learning and Technology program. When I began school as an undergraduate, my goal was to become an international lawyer and work at the UN. When I adjusted my path, I never imagined that I would still end up fulfilling my dream, just through a different avenue. I will forever be grateful to my colleagues in DPI and in NGO Relations for making this internship such an invaluable encounter.