When your internship is just the beginning

This post was featured on Northwestern’s EPICS Blog.

As part of my internship at the Human Rights Campaign, I planned our quarterly “Networking with GenEQ” event that was held on July 31st. This included advertising the event to various progressive organizations across the DC area. After many phone calls, emails, social media plugs and conversations with friends, 60 people showed up for light refreshments, an open bar and a networking activity. I know that networking activities can sound lame, but everyone ended up having a good time and leaving with valuable skills in crafting elevator pitches. There was also ample time to meet other smart, progressive young people and enjoy a few free drinks. It was one of the highlights of my summer to host such a fun, successful event with such a great turnout.

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Me with my co-intern, Rachel, and supervisor, Candace Gingrich-Jones.

There was something about the networking event that felt like the culmination of my internship, but my busiest weeks interning have actually happened since then. I was responsible for most of the internship recruiting and advertising, which wrapped up around the priority deadline of July 21st. Since then, I’ve been working on matching the right interns with the right departments. Often times an applicant won’t be the right fit for some of the departments he or she selected, so I have to reroute those applications to other departments. It can get very complicated as some departments end up with a lot of applications in their hands while others are left with none.

I have to keep track of the hundreds of applications through a system called Wufoo so that we know which departments have what applications, which departments have hired, which departments still need an intern and which interns have turned down offers. It can get especially tough when many applicants can only work part-time in the fall, as many departments need full-time interns. I get emails from departments every day asking for more applications, telling me which ones they are interested in and which ones can be rerouted. It has ended up being a really good way to interact and work with staff from all across the HRC. It has also been helpful to see hundreds of resumes and cover letters so that I can continue to perfect those essential skills for myself.

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Me and some of the other HRC interns from my floor.

In addition to helping with the intern recruiting process, I have been working on two other projects over the last few weeks. One is creating a guide on young LGBT people entering the workforce for the first time. I have done extensive research on coming out in the workplace, company nondiscrimination policies, domestic partner health insurance benefits and transgender-inclusive insurance coverage. It has been eye opening to see concrete examples of the rights and benefits LGBT people and their families are denied and the complex processes they and their employers must go through to create more equal work environments. There is strong, competitive incentive for companies to have domestic partner inclusive benefits, and a majority of Fortune 500 companies offer equal domestic partner benefits. It is very important for young LGBT people to have a grasp on their employers’ often confusing domestic partner policies and the rights and responsibilities that they have in spite of these policies. HRC’s Corporate Equality Index does incredible work rating companies for their LGBT-friendliness and inclusive policies.

My other project involves researching the LGBT campus climate for 10 states to help determine what opportunities and roadblocks we face there. This involves researching nondiscrimination policies, employee domestic partner benefits, LGBT student organizations and resource centers, current news stories involving LGBT issues (such as firing teachers, votes on various policies, etc.) and any other relevant information. Luckily, some of these schools have been rated by the Campus Pride Index on these qualities and more, making my job much easier.

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Me and Karin Quimby, HRC’s Regional Field Director for the South.

I will be continuing to work with the HRC in the fall, campaigning for marriage in Illinois and Senate votes for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in Arkansas. In addition, I am volunteering with HRC’s Chicago Steering Committee, working on the media and communications team for their Chicago Gala, which I will be volunteering at. Finally, I will be volunteering at the HRC National Dinner on October 5, which President Obama, Lady Gaga, the cast of Glee, Mo’Nique, Sally Fields and more have all attended.

As my internship enters its last few days, I look back at my summer at the HRC and the incredible opportunities it has given me. I have befriended passionate people from all over the country and met and worked with some of the foremost LGBT and civil rights leaders of my time. I will forever miss my time as an HRC intern, but I hope to return to DC after I graduate in December to continue my work in progressive politics and LGBT equality. I can’t help but remember nervously sending in my application for my dream internship last February and the excitement I felt when I was accepted. Now, faster than I could have imagined, my time here is almost gone – but my work is just beginning.

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Settling In

This post was featured on the Northwestern EPICS Blog on July 30. I have been blogging for them, the HRC blog and Both Eyes on the Suen, so please forgive the crossover!

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Things have certainly calmed down since standing in front of the Supreme Court when DOMA and Prop 8 were repealed. I’ve gotten used to the daily routines of work, felt more like a local in DC and become closer to my new friends. I’ve seen my projects come to fruition and realized that my work is benefiting an organization I care about.

I’ve spent a significant amount of my time here recruiting interns for the fall and creating a comprehensive guide on intern recruiting. The guide has reached 25 pages (granted, a lot of it is contact information)! I’ve contacted dozens of university “intern in DC” programs asking them to send our information to their students. I’ve sent hundreds of Facebook messages and emails to campus LGBT groups and resource centers. I’ve also mastered job posting on LinkedIn, Idealist and university-specific career services websites.

The most fun part of the intern recruiting process has been social media advertising, which allowed me to create posts for the HRC Facebook page (liked by nearly 1.5 million people), Twitter and Instagram. I was able to direct an intern photo-shoot that was used on the Instagram – and of course dozens of profile pictures. 

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I was also able to attend Generation Progress’s Make Progress National Summit 2013 with the rest of the interns, which was fun and empowering. We heard from some awesome speakers there, my favorites including (but not limited to) Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, senior adviser to president Obama, David Simas and openly gay Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin.

Warren gave a riveting speech on the student debt crisis, as student interest rates recently doubled due to inaction by Congress. This year, the government is expected to make $51 billion in profit from student loans.

“The government should not be making profit on the backs of our students,” said Warren.

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Simas spoke about the importance of the Affordable Care Act and its implications for those who max out their healthcare plans, those with preexisting conditions and young people. He urged us to fully support the act and to encourage people to enroll for these protections on October 1, when open enrollment begins.

Baldwin finished the summit with empowering words on the importance of youth in the progressive movement. The day really got me excited about a career in progressive politics, whether that’s through nonprofit work, working for a politician or maybe even running for office one day. Like this summer as a whole, the summit has opened my eyes to careers that I had never thought about before – ones that I plan on pursuing.

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After the summit, I was able to post my first post on the official HRC blog about the interns’ experience at the summit. You can read the full post here.

The other new project I have been working on is planning and advertising the HRC “Networking with GenEQ” event. The event will bring together progressive youth from around DC to take part in a networking activity led by facilitators from the HRC staff and enjoy a light reception afterwards. It will be a great way to meet other young professionals in the area and talk about ideas and goals as members of the progressive movement. You can find the Facebook event and RSVP form for the event here.

Encouraged by my new “professional” lifestyle and staff at the HRC, I also bought my own domain name for my website, www.brennansuen.com and ordered business cards. This internship has really made me feel like I’m entering adulthood, but also that I am entering it passionate and excited. 

My time thus far

I’ll start this by apologizing for my shameless use of Instagram photos.

Interning in the Youth and Campus Outreach department at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBT advocacy organization in the country, has been a great delve into the 40-hour work week of adulthood (albeit without the paycheck).

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The Washington Monument from the Jefferson Memorial.

I’ve spent most of my time so far working on one big project, which is marketing our internship program (which you should check out!). The HRC has 30 brilliant, passionate interns that do a significant portion of the work here, and my job is to help keep a steady, diverse stream of applicants coming in for the fall semester and to create a fast, easy-to-follow marketing plan that future Youth and Campus Outreach interns can follow.

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Catherine and me, two of the few HRC interns from below the Mason Dixon line.

It’s a great way to combine my coursework as an Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) student with my passion for LGBT advocacy. Thanks to teachers like Gerry Chiaro and Lori Erikson Copple, I know how to identify the problems and opportunities in marketing strategy and create plans of attack for them. The cool part of a real-world internship is that I get to take the next step and actually implement the strategy. This currently involves identifying LGBT resource centers, campus groups and university semester DC programs (which takes a lot of research and time) and emailing/Facebooking all of them, asking to send our information to their students. It can get tedious, but it is really exciting to see results. My next steps involve reaching out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and diverse campus groups to increase the diversity of applicants. Equality affects all of us, and it is important to have diverse representation in the LGBT movement.

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The Ben and Jerry’s Truck brought us free Frozen Greek Yogurt!

The HRC provides us with a lot of awesome educational opportunities, such as getting to spend an hour talking to Chad Griffin, the HRC’s president and the man who orchestrated bringing Prop 8 to the Supreme Court. We also had a Q&A with Natalie Sade, the head of the Aguda, Israel’s HRC equivalent, and I had the opportunity of attending a lunch speaker series at the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, with Mara Keisling, the founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). Each of these speakers gave insight into the equality movement, where we stand and where we have to go from here.

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Lobby Day Participants

I was also fortunate enough to lobby congress with NCTE and the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC) for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and LGBT inclusion in Comprehensive Immigration Reform. This was definitely one of the toughest, most educational and worthwhile experiences I’ve had in DC. Alongside three other Arkansans, I spoke to staff members from Senators John Boozman and Mark Pryor as well as Congressman Tim Griffin himself.

Lobbying was somewhat discouraging at times; my congressmen and their districts are generally very socially conservative, which doesn’t help when lobbying for LGBT equality. At some points, it felt like I wasn’t being heard at all. However, there were also moments where I felt like they were truly listening to me, and that was empowering. As awful and foreign as our political process can be, I felt, for once, that I was actually playing some small role in it.

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Fellow Arkansans at the Supreme Court after DOMA was struck down and marriage returned to California!

Certainly the most exciting part of working for the HRC was the Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 on June 26th. I got to stand at the front of the Supreme Court when the decisions were made, which was one of the most emotional and powerful moments of my life. I was watching history while working for an organization that played a major part in it. The eruptions of the crowd, tearful and joyous hugs from friends and the feeling in my heart that things are getting better for me and all LGBT people – it was a powerful moment in civil rights history. I can’t believe I was lucky enough to experience it firsthand.

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The Supreme Court building (or at least a giant picture of it) as the crowd leaves an exciting morning.

These first few weeks of interning for the HRC have energized me like no other. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by pre-professionalism and career goals as a college student, but working for an organization that stands for something I care about so much has sent me veering off the road I once planned on taking.

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HRC employees, law fellows and interns celebrating the end of DOMA and Prop 8!

I love going to work, even if intern tasks sometimes get monotonous and staring at a computer screen for seven hours gives me a neck ache. I care about what I am doing, the organization I am working for and the people I am working with – and I’m willing to take a pay cut from what I once thought I would be doing to enter the world of nonprofits and LGBT advocacy. I hear echoes of all the people in my life who have told me that you’ve got to love your job more than you love the money. I think I’m going to take that advice.

Brennan is a rising senior at Northwestern studying Psychology, Theatre and Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC). You can follow his internship adventures on his blog, www.botheyesonthesuen.wordpress.com.

This has been uploaded to Northwestern’s EPICS Internship Blog.

Full of Pride

This past weekend was my first in DC – and lucky for me, it was also the week of Capital Pride!

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I arrived in DC at 3:00 am on Friday night (or Saturday morning) and already started making friends. My friend Katie from Little Rock was hosting me for the first two nights before I could move into my dorm, and her roommate ended up being friends with my friend Jacob from NU!

ImageKatie and me at The Sign of the Whale.

Saturday’s main agenda was the Pride parade, but first I got to reunite with one of my best friends from abroad, Abby, over lunch. We’re really excited about the summer together – how lucky that we get to pick things right back up! After our lunch, I left with Katie and some new friends to meet up with the HRC interns at the parade.

ImageThe HRC interns at Pride!

The Pride parade was a lot more moving than I thought it would be (in addition to being colorful and fun). There were families, children and elementary school groups marching, which really inspired me. I certainly wasn’t thinking about these things when I was that young. My first experiences with the word “gay” came from kids making fun of anyone wearing a GAP shirt (to 8 year olds, it meant “gay and proud”). It was the ultimate insult to be “GAP” back then, which is pretty crazy to me now. It means a lot to me that these kids are growing up thinking that being LBGT is normal. It reminded me of one of my new favorite quotes: “heterosexuality isn’t normal; it’s just common.”

It was also very heartwarming to see the number of Christian groups walking. A lot of times, Christianity is unfairly associated with homophobia, but these groups brought out the fact that it is a religion based on love. There was even a Mormons for Marriage Equality group that gave out “I hugged a Mormon today” stickers!

The parade lasted for three hours, and although my feet started to hurt, my heart was constantly full of joy. It was an incredibly supportive, diverse and loving celebration. Anyone could be who he wanted to be and feel loved for it.

Later that night, we all went out to this fun club called Black Cat that has a monthly party called Mixtape. It was really, really fun – I hadn’t gone out dancing since London!

On Sunday, I met up with some of the HRC interns (whom I love!) at the Capital Pride festival, where we saw Icona Pop. I’d only heard a couple of their songs, but I got home and downloaded their CD afterwards. They’re really fun!

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A little slice of home in DC!

I ended my night on a monument tour with Abby. I can’t believe my midnight strolls can include the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and a bunch of other historic monuments! I can tell that will be the first of many walks to the National Mall. Gazing over the reflecting pool, Abby and I reminisced on our time in London, caught up on each other’s semesters and most importantly, got excited for the endless possibilities of a summer in DC.

It’s going to be a great summer.

ImageMe at the Lincoln Memorial on my National Mall stroll with Abby!

Three weeks back at NU + Chicago excursions

I’ve been back at Northwestern for almost three weeks now and have done quite a lot!

First and foremost, I got the internship I wanted for the summer! I will be interning in the Youth and Campus Outreach department at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in Washington, D.C.! The HRC is the largest LGBT advocacy organization in the nation; you may know it as the = sign.

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I can’t wait to live in our nation’s capital this summer and work on projects helping LGBT youth around the country! I really feel like this is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Aside from that big news, I’ve been able to go into Chicago a lot more than I did last quarter. During my first week back, my friend Kristin and I saw the world premiere (literally the first performance in front of an audience) of the Big Fish musical starring Norbert Leo Butz. Honestly, I think it needs some work and am not a big fan of the music, but it was still fun to see!

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I went to a really cool coffee shop in Chicago with some friends called Metropolis Coffee to do work. It’s right off the Granville stop on the Red line and worth checking out if you’re in the area.

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It had one of the best chai lattes I’ve ever had! They also serve cupcakes from Maddiebird Bakery – my peanut butter and chocolate one was super tasty.

555844_1897906880508_627744624_nI finished an internship grant proposal for Northwestern that would really help cut some of the costs of living in D.C. this summer. It was great getting outside of Evanston to do some work and a really conducive work environment. Hopefully I’ll go back again soon!

I’ve gotten to go out a couple of times besides the usual World of Beer excursion. I went to a sorority date night (ZTA) at Linkin House last week, and last weekend was my friend Kate’s 21st birthday. She was pretty much my first friend at NU, and she, her roommate Sarah and I have stayed close since freshman year. We went with our friends Emily and Leesha to Andersonville to go bar hopping, which I have only gotten to do once in Chicago. We went to two places called Atmosphere and Hopleaf that were both really fun. We might even go back this weekend.

I also went to a Cubs game against the Giants with my housemates. It was a really nice time, and it would have been even nicer if the sun wasn’t blocked out! It was a lovely day, so I left early to go for a run. I’m one of the most unathletic people I know and am trying to do better about staying in shape. I love being outside when it’s nice anyways, so it works out pretty well. I might be dead after a run, but ultimately it feels really great.

chicago-cubs-logoI’m going home next weekend, and I’m really excited about that. I haven’t been home in almost four months and won’t be going home again until September. It’s going to be great seeing my friends and family for the weekend, and then a few of my friends have booked Megabus tickets to visit me in May!

Aside from all of that, I love my classes this quarter. I’m taking Marketing Research, Marketing Strategy, Public Relations and a really easy math class. I’m also taking a Graphic Design mini-course, which is going to be a really helpful skill to have moving forward in my career.

This weekend should be pretty exciting too; I’m going to a 21st birthday on a party yacht at Navy Pier! Crazy. And I’m seeing American Idiot in Broadway Chicago tomorrow, which stars an NU student. It’s been a pretty packed and fun few weeks!