Daniel S. Soucier – Facilitating Experiential Learning, Mentoring Students, and Learning as an Educator
On July 10, I arrived in Augusta at the Maine Municipal Association (MMA). It was a beautiful summer day: clear with a crispness to the morning air. As a new employee of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center (MCSPC), this was my first foray into the service work provided by the organization. The reason for my travel from Orono to Augusta was that the Maine Government Summer Internship Program (MGSIP) was having a midpoint educational and experiential learning day where the 63 student interns serving around the state of Maine came together for presentations on Maine’s economy, labor market, and workforce, the role of municipalities and possible career paths in municipal government, a tour of the State House with presentations by Treasurer Henry Beck and Secretary Matt Dunlap, and a networking and job fair receptions with special guest presenter Hannah Pingree, former Speaker of the House and Governor Janet Mills’ head of the Office of Innovation and the Future. For me, this was an exciting chance to interact with my new colleagues, and network with interesting people. However the thing I was most enthusiastic about was meeting, interacting with, and mentoring the student interns serving in the program.
As an instructor at the University of Maine in the Department of History and Maine Studies program, I greatly enjoy the time I get to spend teaching, collaborating with, and guiding students. My role during the educational programing day was to assist in making sure the day went smoothly, aid in registering students and interacting with the MMA staff, and facilitating a discussion session among the interns. I was excited to meet these students! I had been working on an interactive map for weeks to highlight the vast geographic impact of the MGSIP. Their backgrounds were impressive! There were future engineers, lawyers, scientists, accountants, historians, mathematicians, social workers, politicians, business leaders, economists, and teachers in this group. They were attending universities and colleges throughout the state of Maine and far beyond including St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, McGill University in Montreal, the University of Kansas, and Notre Dame and they hailed from locations as far away as Fairfax, Virginia and Kensington, Maryland.
Beginning our discussion with one another, the students introduced themselves, where they were from, and the interesting work they were doing serving in municipal, state, and county government organizations throughout Maine. There were outreach, media, and communications specialists, legal assistants, GIS specialists, aides for city managers, and engineering technicians. Throughout our interactions, students identified challenges and concerns, celebrated successes and achievements, and discussed their new understanding of the role that governmental structures play in Maine society. We worked together to establish strategies for dealing with adversity in the workplace, recognized successful and ineffective approaches to dealing with colleagues, supervisors, clients, and the general public, and explored how the experience of having a paid, 40-hour per week internship working in government was transformative. After an afternoon of programming and a networking and job fair reception at the University of Maine at Augusta we parted ways. I told several students I looked forward to discussing their internship adventures over the next few weeks for the MCSPC Student Experience Blog and that I would see them at the closing ceremony at the Blaine House in August.
The morning of August 16 began much differently than the picturesque morning in July. It was a total downpour, I arrived at the Blaine House two-hours early because of my own mistake, and I had only recently come up for air from course prep for the upcoming semester. However, much like in July, I was excited to interact with the students again. I walked to the cafeteria at the State House, fueled up with a coffee and an omelet, and begin sharing content on the MCSPC social media regarding the day to come. I also began thinking about questions I was going to ask the interns. What was I curious about? How did the students feel about their overall experience in the program? Where were they to go now? What were their plans after they graduated? It felt like the end of a semester where I would inevitably lose touch with students that I enjoyed getting to know and held interest in their future plans and wellbeing.
The ceremony brought together interns, their supervisors, and representatives from state government including Treasurer Henry Beck and Attorney General Aaron Frey. The staff at the Blaine House were our gracious hosts as we drank coffee and tea, enjoyed Maine themed seasonal delicacies such as blueberry cream horns, fresh strawberries, and chocolate chip zucchini bread and engaged in celebratory merriment about twelve-week internship program that had now come to a close. It was great to see students reuniting with one another, interacting with their supervisors as colleagues, celebrating their successes, and reflecting upon the challenges they conquered.
I, myself, was eager to reunite with several students I had kept in contact with throughout the summer as well as a couple that had taken courses with me at the UMaine. We chatted about how their summers went, the adventures they had on the weekends, their anticipation of the coming fall semester, and their plans after graduating from college. For many, the internship experience opened their eyes to what the state of Maine has to offer. Young people want to live and work in Maine and have a strong sense of place, belonging, and attachment to the region. Prior to interning with state, country, and municipal government, these students felt that their chances of finding exciting, fulfilling, and well-paying careers in Maine was unlikely. The MGSIP was a transformative experience for these students as they learned important workforce skills, networked with professionals in their fields, recognized the value of their academic training, and discovered the endless possibilities that await them within Maine and beyond.
The MGSIP was also a transformative experience for me as an educator. By interacting with these interns I came to understand many of the desired qualities that Maine employers are looking for in young people that are starting their careers. Time and time again, as we discussed successes that occurred throughout the summer, I learned that being able to communicate to a variety of audiences regarding complex issues, to work collaboratively and creatively, to empathize with the viewpoints of others, and to hold an intermediate level of digital literacy was essential to the engineer as well as the marking and communications specialist, the accountant as well as the legal assistant. This challenged me as an instructor to teach young people how to convey their technical expertise across a variety of mediums to their peers & colleagues, other educated non-specialists, and the public at large. To listen to the needs and desires of others and to come up with solutions to complicated problems in collaboration with one another.