As the number of available internships this past summer changed due to the ongoing pandemic, one student in the Diederich College took a leap of faith on a virtual option. This post originally appeared on The Big Think’s blog in the summer of 2020.
By Margaret Millerick
I learned that being open and willing to challenge yourself will give you experiences you never thought would have come your way.
It is easy to agree that the pandemic took a huge toll on peoples’ plans for the year. For me, similar to countless other college students this past summer, many internship programs had been cancelled before they even began. I felt so much pressure and stress as I was hoping to get internship experience before I started my junior year at Marquette. As June quickly started approaching and times still uncertain, I was still looking for a job.
One day, I happened to stumble upon a posting from the Internship Coordinator, Sheena Carey, who had been frequently tweeting various internship opportunities that were still available for the summer.
One that caught my eye was an internship from a Marquette Diederich alum, and it was virtual — perfect! Before the interview, I did extensive research on the company, The Big Think Group (TBTG), and quickly realized that it was located in San Juan, Puerto Rico — which was definitely not what I was expecting. Some of their clients include New Fortress Energy, Chrysler, T-Mobile and McDonald’s. The services that they provide are digital and social media marketing, crisis management, product marketing, and brand launches. After the interview, I realized that this would be a great way to gain experience in the marketing/PR field in a very unique way. Although there was a language barrier and the company was in Puerto Rico, I was up for the challenge.
The moment I started the internship, I felt very welcomed and included. The staff and the interns went the extra mile to ensure that I was not missing important information. The majority of the meetings were conducted in Spanish, with English PowerPoints. I was assigned a translator who provided translations during the weekly meetings, guest speaker presentations, and emails. Each week, interns were grouped and given an assignment. Being the only non-Puerto Rican intern definitely had its challenges, but each time I was assigned to a new group, all the other students would speak and write in English. Their flexibility throughout the internship program was very eye-opening and humbling, as they helped me navigate through things such as news sources that were in Spanish, or people and places in Puerto Rico that were very well known and could be helpful for projects that we were assigned to that week.
Virtual internships open up new possibilities
Over the summer, The Big Think Group, based in Puerto Rico, hosted a number of virtual interns, including Margaret…
Before the internship, all I really knew about Puerto Rico was that it is a U.S. territory and that they had experienced the devastating Hurricane Maria in 2017. The hurricane killed over 4,000 people, destroyed thousands of homes, roads, knocked out the power for months, and caused heavy flooding throughout the island. During the internship, I learned about some popular Puerto Rican social media influencers, the Lote 23 food truck park, and how the island is currently dealing with protests for the Black Lives Matter movement. In addition, I learned how they are still recovering from Hurricane Maria and are slowly trying to re-build the economy.
A company that is helping them rebuild is Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust. As part of the final project of the internship, I was honored to interview their CEO, Lucy Crespo. The Trust, is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to investing and promoting innovation to advance Puerto Rico’s economy. A former Hewlett Packard General Manager, Ms. Crespo is one of the most influential and well-known women in Puerto Rico. Therefore, I tried to ask questions that would shed light on how she achieved her success.
My first question was, “What is your advice for college students trying to get started in the business world?” Ms. Crespo stated to be very passionate about what it is that you want to do. She really believes in working hard and having a mission which created a roadmap for her when she graduated college.
The next question I asked was, “What is the most rewarding part about being CEO of the Trust?” She said that when she first started in 2015, they had a very small team and as a result, she had the opportunity to work on many projects, and contribute ideas that helped the Trust grow. Currently, the Trust has over 200 employees and about 16 programs and has become a leading organization for research in Puerto Rico. Looking back on her five years since starting at the Trust, she said it is really rewarding that her strategic plan has come to life and was successful.
The third question I asked her was, “What is the biggest challenge of navigating a non-profit organization through a pandemic, and did you look at similar organizations or did you just go with what you thought would work best?” Ms. Crespo stated that the biggest challenge for non-profit organizations such as the Trust, is having sustainable funds, because if you don’t have the margins, you will not be able to deliver what it is you want to do. She said for them, one of the main objectives was to increase the capacity of innovation of Puerto Rico. However, they also know that they have to diversify the funds that they receive. At the time, they were 100 percent funded by the local government. Now, they receive a little over 50 percent federal funding as well as funding from private institutions. Funding has been really growing in Puerto Rico and she really wants to explore different options to expand resources, manage programs, and take more responsibility to create a more sustainable future for the Trust. Currently, they are establishing an endowment which is very important for the programs at the Trust which will eliminate the worry of running out of funding which happens, often, with non-profit organizations.
My last question that I asked was, “What have you learned about yourself during the pandemic while leading the Trust through it?” She said that her biggest lesson is that you always have to look for the best people and/or team to work with you. When she came to the Trust, she had to form a resource team of people who had the best skill set for the job, especially communications skills.
Through this interview, I was able to learn more about the Trust as well as Puerto Rico’s economy. Ms. Crespo provided great insight into what it takes to lead a major non-profit organization.
My experience with the internship was great. I loved learning public relations concepts such as how to analyze a crisis, how to find influencers, monitoring a news story, and connecting with real world professionals as they told their experience in the industry. I never imagined my summer would involve working virtually with a public relations and communications firm that is located in Puerto Rico. Although the language barrier was challenging at times, it was fun to test out my high school Spanish. I really enjoyed connecting with peers about things beyond the internship, such as school and what was going on in our different sides of the world. Marquette always prides itself on its alumni and how willing they are to help and connect with current students about anything. Through this internship, I was able to see that power of the Marquette experience and connection firsthand. Bernardo Fiol-Costa, a Marquette alum, and president and founder of the company, helped me tremendously by giving me an opportunity to work in the marketing and communications field. It was also fun to talk about our Marquette experiences and the similarities and differences between them.
This summer, I learned that being open and willing to challenge yourself will give you experiences you never thought would have come your way. Without the virtual format that COVID forced everyone to adapt to, I would not have been able to create new friends and connections with people in Puerto Rico. I am so thankful that I was able to have this opportunity. I look forward to visiting Puerto Rico someday, and actually getting to meet some of the interns and the staff of the TBTG company face-to-face.