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Guidance for Future Interns of the McCain Institute for International Leadership

“Be open to where this leads you; be open to the change it may have upon you and where it may take your heart.” – Cindy McCain, Chair of the Board of Trustees, McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University 

This past spring, I was honored to be selected as a summer intern at the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University. I was inspired by the McCain Institute’s mission, and I felt a strong alignment with my worldview and interests. While I was incredibly excited, I was also a bit nervous. I was unsure what to expect during my time as the McCain Institute’s Communications and Special Events intern. How could I make meaningful contributions and how could I maximize my personal growth? Now, at the close of my internship, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect upon my experiences, as well as share guidance from team members of the McCain Institute that may offer helpful insight for future interns.

It turned out that my nervousness as an intern was short lived. The Institute’s onboarding process was excellent, and every interaction I had with the staff was constructive. Everyone was incredibly helpful sharing important information and assisting interns get up to speed quickly with the organization. This is a critical juncture for an intern and where the guidance of staff members is so important. Here are a few thoughts that a future intern should keep in mind as their role in the organization develops:


“Where do you add unique value, what do you actually enjoy doing… find roles that allow you to do that.” – Brette Steele, Senior Director of Preventing Targeted Violence Program

Based upon initial conversations with Staci McDermott, assistant director of Communications, I was tasked with attending events and taking notes, creating content for social media and writing posts for the Institute’s blog. As a communications intern, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about each individual program. By creating media and blog posts, I was immersed in the programming presented by the organization. The more I learned about the McCain Institute, the more I enjoyed my work, and I would highly recommend to all incoming interns that they learn as much as possible about the Institute’s work. Gaining a better understanding of the organization and its programming also made me feel much more comfortable asking questions. I asked a lot of questions, and I always received thoughtful and helpful responses.


“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. When I was an intern, I always thought that if I asked questions, I would come off as annoying. However, people rarely think that when you ask important, insightful questions. They actually will appreciate how invested you are in doing a good job.” – Melissa Blum, Social Media Specialist

Another important practice that made my experience as an intern at the Institute even more meaningful was taking the initiative when I saw opportunities to contribute. Interestingly, I recall that during my interview for the internship, I was asked, “How do you feel about taking initiative?” I replied that I felt good about it, but I now have greater context for answering that question. One case in point involved an idea I had for social media. I spoke with Caitlin Battey, special projects manager, about a concept and instead of her telling me no or giving me reasons why I should not speak up, she asked, “How can I help?” That was one of the most amazing parts of working here: the team genuinely wants to see you benefit from your experience. Battey gave me advice numerous times and guided me throughout the course of the summer. Knowing that she believed in me motivated me to move forward. I scheduled a meeting with my supervisor, and she liked my ideas. I won’t lie, I was a little anxious, but the implementation of an idea I conceived was a confidence building experience. It’s difficult to overstate the impact of this type of validation.


“Don’t tell yourself no about asking about an idea. Ask and let other people tell you no, but at least try.” – Caitlin Battey, Special Programs Manager

The McCain Institute’s internship program is designed to help interns grow through interaction with highly knowledgeable and talented people. I thoroughly enjoyed the “brown bag” meetings, an opportunity for interns to meet and directly speak with the Institute’s leadership. Speaking with, and gaining insight from Chair of the Board of Trustees Cindy McCain, Director of the Sedona Forum Meghan Latcovich, Senior Director of Arizona Programs Claire Sechler Merkel and Human Rights & Democracy Program Manager Berivan Orucoglu, was certainly one of the highlights of my summer. I strongly advise future interns to take full advantage of these opportunities. Every meeting was as unique and fascinating as the people that we met with. Although the job titles and backgrounds differed, each shared tremendous respect for Senator John McCain, as well as a dedication to preserving his legacy of helping others throughout the world. I will always fondly remember the opportunity to interact with the staff members of the Institute. My time at the McCain Institute has clearly demonstrated the value of networking, the importance of dialogue with interesting and experienced people, and the amount of knowledge and wisdom the team here possesses. Their desire to help others is one of my greatest takeaways from this experience.


“One of the most effective ways of getting where you want to be is to effectively network… don’t just call your network when you need something. Keep it growing and feed it like you would a friendship.” – Claire Sechler Merkel, Senior Director, Arizona Programs

My time as an intern at the McCain Institute has been a tremendously beneficial experience. As a rising senior at NYU, my focus has started shifting from life as a college student to thoughts of a professional life after graduation. This internship provided an excellent environment, as well as countless experiences that have fostered personal growth as I contemplate life beyond college. The idea that I could make the slightest contribution to this organization that advances causes with global impact is tremendously meaningful and has given me greater confidence in my ability to successfully navigate future challenges. I have witnessed the power of networking, camaraderie and the intention of helping others both externally through the Institute’s mission, and internally. I will always be appreciative and thankful for this experience with the McCain Institute and all of the people here.


Here is additional guidance from staff and fellow interns at the Institute:

“Always raise your hand, be present and engaged, network, and always be the one that is offering to help.” – Betsy Gehring, Deputy Executive Director


“Arrive early, be punctual and do more than is expected – it will get noticed.” – Staci McDermott, Assistant Director of Communications


“Be open minded, be open to changing things, and changing your career. Try not to plan obsessively for the next 5,10, 20 years.” – Anna Voloshin, Senior Director of Development


“Especially at the beginning of the process of thinking about what [you] want in the future… always be willing to accept a new challenge because it could really pay off. Something that may not have been what you thought you wanted… could turn out to be great.” – Virginia Pounds, Office Manager and Human Resource Liaison


“Curiosity and asking questions are really important, and one of the easiest ways to start building relationships.” – Betsy Gehring, Deputy Executive Director


“Say yes to as many work-related invitations that come your way – it’s how you grow and meet people who may be able to help you later on in your career.” – Staci McDermott, Assistant Director of Communications 


“Ask people to lunch or coffee! This may sound silly, but my favorite experiences from when I was an intern were those casual interactions with my coworkers. In a casual environment, you are more likely to make connections that will last past your internship duration.” – Melissa Blum, Social Media Specialist


“Build relationships with the people that are going to be your peers.” – Kristen Abrams, Senior Director of Combatting Human Trafficking


“People at the Institute are really friendly, so don’t be shy about reaching out and asking to chat! Caity is super supportive and will connect you to people who share your interests, whether they currently work for the Institute, or whether they interned here years ago.” – Paulina Song, Intern


“Having an idea about which intern tasks excite you is a great way to steer clear of or at least break the cycle of “mundane intern tasks.” If you want to write a lot, ask for writing projects. Same with event planning, social media, anything like that.” – Patrick McCann, Communications Coordinator


“One thing I would emphasize is taking advantage of the sheer number of experts that interns will meet during their time here. So many qualified and knowledgeable people work here so there is no better time to do in-depth research in a particular interest.” – James Robson, Intern

DISCLAIMER: McCain Institute is a nonpartisan organization that is part of Arizona State University. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent an opinion of the McCain Institute.

Publish Date
August 6, 2021