Thursday, August 27, 2015

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

This is the third post in a series about my internship.

Photo op with Anna Gilmore Hall, Executive Director (left)
 and Barbara Kelly, Deputy Executive Director and
Editor-in-Chief, Hearing Loss Magazine

For my summer "vacation", I spent 4 1/2 weeks this past July/August in Bethesda, Maryland working as a volunteer intern at the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). I did this to earn 4 credit hours towards my master's degree in communication studies. For each credit hour, I was required to put in 45 hours time, so altogether it was a 180-hour internship.

my desk

How did I fill my time at HLAA? I worked in the area of strategic communications assisting the nonprofit organization to communicate effectively through their magazine, website, social media, emails, and internal documents. This involved research, writing, editing, and proof reading. I loved doing this work and having the opportunity to share my ideas and be a part of the team at HLAA.

Cover Girl

My internship supervisor Barbara Kelley surprised me when she asked me to write a feature story for the upcoming issue of Hearing Loss Magazine. Not only did I have the chance to share my hearing loss story, but I was photographed for the cover! None of the office wardrobe I had brought to wear in Bethesda could be used for the photo shoot because my skirts and pants were either black or dark blue and all of my blouses had busy patterns. Cindy Dyer, the magazine's photographer, graciously lent me the clothes, accessories, and jewelry I wore in the photos. I like her style and should go shopping with her next time I need something new to wear. We took the photos in a public library in Virginia. Our original plan was to go to the Library of Congress, but that did not work out. I'll share my experience visiting our national library in another post.

In terms of enabling employee communication access, the Hearing Loss Association of America is outstanding. For example, I attended two staff meetings in their looped conference room. When I came in, the staff gently reminded me to switch my hearing aids to their telecoil program setting. This brought the sound (from the several microphones on the table and the telephone used to communicate with staff members who were off-site at the time) directly into my hearing aids, eliminating the need for me to turn and face whoever was speaking. Additionally, a CART provider was on the conference phone call and everything that was said (including who said what) was projected onto two large screens. This made for an optimal meeting experience.

Display honoring Justin Dart, disability rights pioneer

While I was in the Washington D.C. area, the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act was being celebrated. One evening the HLAA staff and I attended A Celebration of Pride, Power, and Promise, an event at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. It was exciting to be there with leaders, activists, and politicians concerned about empowering people with disabilities. I particularly enjoyed the inspiring speeches which educated me about the history of the disability rights movement in America. One of HLAA's important roles is as an agent for change in our country so people with hearing loss can have equal access to opportunities. Learn more about HLAA's advocacy agenda here.

In my next post, I'll share about my field trips to Gallaudet University and the Library of Congress.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Paperwork and a Place to Stay

This is the second post in a series about my internship.

Finding a place to do my internship was only the first step. Next, I had to write an internship proposal and have it signed by my on-site supervisor and two faculty members in my department. These three will comprise the committee of readers for my capstone report. I also had to have a signed internship agreement that defined and verified my plans for working with the Hearing Loss Association of America.

To protect my current job while taking time off for the internship, I submitted a request to the university for an educational leave of absence for five weeks. This paperwork needed to be signed by the Dean of the Library as well as the Provost and approved by Human Resources.

These were the hoops I had to jump through for the university, but my biggest hurdle was finding a place to stay while working in Bethesda, MD. I researched short-term rentals but the only ones available were for corporate apartments that were out of my price range. I checked on Craigslist and there were rooms for rent, but I felt uncomfortable making a housing arrangement this way. My aunt and uncle live on a farm in rural Maryland and were willing to have me stay with them, but the daily commute of up to 4 hours driving would have been brutal. I had a cousin who lived nearby the HLAA office who I thought might be able to put me up with his family, but that did not work out as he was travelling out of the country at that time. I was wondering if I would have to give up on my dream.

I discussed this possibility with a few people and everyone said to not give up yet. Then I talked about the situation with my boss. He immediately went into action on my behalf. Using a medical librarians listserv, he asked if there was anyone in the Washington D.C. area who could help me out with short-term housing. The same day a woman wrote back that she and her husband could rent a room in their condo for a very reasonable price. I was amazed.

The two of us began emailing each other. She sent me a link for a picture of her cat and other family photos. When I saw a vacation picture of her and her husband, I knew everything was going to be all right. She looked like a librarian and a caring person. Her husband looked like he adored her. I knew I was in good hands.

Photo I took of my housemate, Simon

Not only were my hosts wonderful people who I enjoyed staying with, but they had a condo that was three train stops from the HLAA office. Their condo was a block and a half away from the Metro station. Location, location, location. I did not have to drive to work once and was able to keep my car in the condo's parking garage at no added expense. What a blessing.

In my next post, I'll share what I actually did during my internship.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Stepping Out by Faith

Do you ever feel nervous stepping on a sidewalk grate? Do you ever imagine the grating giving way under your weight? I have had those thoughts and feelings before, but as you can see in the photo above (yes, that's my foot) I've learned to walk on them anyways. The trick is stepping out by faith believing you will make it across safely before you put your foot on the grate.

This summer I did my communication studies internship and I have promised to share my experiences with you. Before I do that, I want to begin with the story of how my internship came to be arranged. As you will see, it required me to step out by faith.

A year ago in the spring, I decided I wanted to do an internship as my capstone experience. My other options were writing a thesis or completing a project, but an internship is the recommended option for students like me who wish to make a career change. Because my dream is to work for a company or organization that provides services for people with hearing loss, I decided to look for an internship with one of them. But where would I find such a business or nonprofit? I felt I needed a place where I could talk to several vendors face to face and present my qualifications rather than sending out unsolicited emails. My university offered career fairs, but I didn't think that was the answer. Instead, I brought to mind the Expo Hall at the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) convention. Once I thought of that solution, I began making my plans to go to Austin, Texas.

I went there all on my own. Although I have friends with hearing loss and connections in the online community, I did not know anyone else who was going to that event. I decided not to let that stop me. I studied the convention program book's list of vendors and started choosing my targets. It was not until two weeks before I left that the idea occurred to me that perhaps HLAA itself could use a volunteer intern.

My story is going to get really good starting here. I arrived at the Austin airport and got onto the shuttle van that would take me to my hotel. It seemed as though all of us who got on had hearing loss  and were going to the convention. A man sat next to me on the van, turned to me and said, "You look familiar." I was surprised because I did not recognize him at all. I said quietly, "I write a blog called Speak Up Librarian, perhaps you came across it online." "Yes, that's it." We introduced ourselves. The man turned out to be Richard Einhorn, the convention's keynote speaker. It was a thrill for me to be recognized from my blog, but I was embarrassed (and still am) that I did not know who he was. My only explanation is that I was very focused on obtaining an internship from the vendor list and had not looked through the convention program's other sections closely. Richard was gracious about it. He asked me what I had been writing about lately and we chatted on the ride. Then, I got up my courage to tell him why I was in Austin. To my surprise, Richard told me he was a board member of HLAA. He offered to introduce me to Anna Gilmore Hall, the Executive Director. I was thrilled!

But my quest for an internship was not fulfilled that easily. As it turned out, I went up to Richard after his keynote address and he was standing with Anna, but they needed to have their photos taken and were led away. An introduction could not be arranged at that time. Of course, I understood and was sure another opportunity would present itself. Meanwhile, I visited the Expo Hall and gave my resume to a few companies and organizations. None showed much interest in my offer to do a volunteer internship for them.

The next morning, after having the complimentary breakfast in the lobby, I returned to my hotel room instead of heading over to the convention. I felt a strong desire to read my Bible and pray over my situation. I reviewed the story of Abraham's servant in Genesis 24 and prayed to be as successful in my mission as he was. When I finished, I exited the front door of the hotel just in time to see the shuttle van for the convention hotel leaving the parking lot. Well! I was a little miffed at the delay and wondering why God would let this happen when I had been turning to Him for guidance and direction.

Oh ye of little faith, I would tell myself now. But at the time, I did not know how this was going to work out for the best. What happened next was that I sat down on a bench in front of the hotel prepared to wait for the shuttle van to return and then go over on its next trip. A few minutes later a well-dressed couple came out of the hotel entrance. I noticed they were wearing the same red lanyards with convention name tags that I was. They spotted that too and kindly asked if they could give me a ride over to the convention. Even though I did not know them, I felt comfortable accepting their offer. When we walked over to their car in the parking lot, the woman got into the driver's seat, her husband got into the front passenger seat and I sat in the back. As the woman backed the car out of the parking space, her husband turned around towards me and introduced himself as Jim Saunders, an HLAA board member. I could not believe it, but did not miss a beat as I said, "I'm really glad to meet you" handing him a copy of my resume and explaining why I had come to Austin. He promised to take it directly to Anna.

Jim must have been as good as his word based on what happened next. That morning there was a symposium session and I got up before it was over to use the ladies' room. Can you guess who was standing just ahead of me in line? Anna Gilmore Hall. I smiled at her and said, "My name is Sarah and I've been trying to meet you." She told me that she had been given my resume. She may also have said that Richard had mentioned me to her, but I can't recall that for sure. We agreed to get in touch during the convention.

As busy as she was, she gave me almost a half hour to talk in her hotel room about my resume and what I could do for HLAA. She suggested several different projects, all of which sounded interesting to me. By the end of our time together, she agreed to take me on as an intern. Woo-hoo, mission accomplished! God answered my prayers. A few times over the remainder of the convention Anna tried to connect me with Barbara Kelley, the Deputy Executive Director and Editor of Hearing Loss Magazine, but it never worked out. That would have to wait until my internship a year later.

In my next post, I'll share how other logistics for my internship worked out.