my internship experience

Jessica McCabe '09, a Graphic Design major with a Communications Studies minor from Storrs, Conn., spent the summer of 2008 as an art intern at Mission Control, Inc., a Democratic political advertising firm in Mansfield, Conn. On campus, McCabe is a resident assistant, is active with Safe Zones, the Peace and Justice club, Colby-Sawyer Players, and recently helped found a new Art Department club.

How did you find this internship opportunity?

I've done web design for my father's company, and I found this job through one of his employees who has a friend who works at Mission Control. Unfortunately, when I contacted Mission Control, they weren't looking for art interns. When I heard that I took it as the final word and my search went on, but my dad contacted spoke with them and found out they would accept an unpaid intern. So, the process was somewhat different from how one would normally get a job.

What were your most important duties and responsibilities as an intern?

My most important tasks were overall organization of the art department and text edits. I was in charge of organizing the photo database, which helped them get moved into their new office. Text edits were also important, since when the office was very busy, it was helpful for the artists to have someone fix the small issues on mail pieces. I'm comfortable saying that my most important role wasn't extravagant, because most of the payback, as with any internship, was the professional experience gained. I did have other tasks that were more important to me as a designer, but I feel that my help with organization and text edits had the biggest impact on the office.

What skills were required to fulfill this internship?

Even for seemingly menial tasks, knowledge of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign was a must. Also, design knowledge was essential for creating and editing pieces; for example, if the text edit calls for making a headline shorter or longer, the person completing the edit would need to be able to compensate for the change and keep the design consistent.

How did this internship intersect with your studies at Colby-Sawyer? What specific courses did you find most helpful in fulfilling your intern duties?

While all of the courses required for my major influenced my experience at Mission Control, the two that had the most impact were Advertising and Promotional Design, and Print and Publication Design. Clearly, Print and Publication Design was very helpful, as Mission Control mainly creates print mailers and knowledge of layout is necessary. Advertising has helped immensely as well, mostly in that it gave my career direction and focus and led me to the opportunity of working with a local advertising firm. With the background of having taken this course, I am able to complete mailers that are coherent with the concept drawn up by the copywriters in an integrated and unified way.

What challenges did you face, and what triumphs did you enjoy, during your internship?

On my first day, I found the building easily, but had trouble getting in… after trying virtually every door and getting lost in the smallest, most pointless museum ever, I wandered up the stairs and was greeted by Luke, who showed me the kitchen where some people were getting coffee. (Note: see below of the sign I created to help people find Mission Control.) My first day was a lot of feeling my way around and figuring out the new environment. The atmosphere was much more casual than I had expected.

My worst day there was definitely a learning experience. I had been working on designing a T-shirt for clients and had a lot of fun doing it. I received good feedback from the art department and my supervisor, but when the piece went to the decision makers, they didn't like the concept and chose a design from years ago. At first I was angry that my work wasn't received well, but the experience taught me something that can be summed up in a quote one of the art guys said: “My foolish error was to care too much.” Taking work seriously is one thing, but being too invested in it is completely different. Basically, it was the day I realized the importance of separating commercial art from personal art.

As far as my career goes, based on the experience gained from my worst day, it would be fair to say that it was also my best day. I tend to enjoy revisions of process, and this certainly was one of those. I enjoy days when I feel productive, when I can work hard and make a contribution. More specifically, one of my favorite days was when the signs behind the desk and in the stairwell were installed. The sign project was probably my most involved project I did there. Now others will have an easier time finding Mission Control!

What did you learn during your internship that might be useful in your professional life?

I learned about how to work with others and be comfortable in the workplace. An important thing to remember is “don't be afraid.” Staying confident shows the people around you that you're comfortable, which makes them comfortable in turn.

Do you think this internship will lead to employment with the company after graduation? Did it confirm or alter your career plans?

I likely won't work at Mission Control when I graduate because I would like to be in a major city. Working there, however, has confirmed my interest in my career path; I have accepted and am beginning to embrace the competitive nature of the advertising industry.

Is Colby-Sawyer's requirement of completing an internship is beneficial?

Definitely. I feel much more confident about my career now because I know what to expect. I think college in general tends to build a big, scary picture of the “real world,” and having an internship helps break that down; it's really not as scary as it looks.