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Internship Report: MSU graduate thrives in virtual internship; gains unique experience

By Tammy Pitts - MNA Communications Director

Among the benefits of an internship is the opportunity to gain real world work experience, personal development, career exploration, and networking. And Erica SooJin Song says she learned a lot from her experience as Michigan Nonprofit Association’s human resources intern from 2020-2021. To quote Erica directly, “It’s really been a great work experience. This internship has been my favorite and it’s the one I am most proud of; it’s been very rewarding.” Erica graduated from Michigan State University last month after receiving her master’s degree in human resources and labor relations. She was involved in various projects here at MNA, and I had the pleasure of hanging out with her for a little bit to discuss her school and work life, plus she filled me in on the “prince” in her life. Yes, you read that correctly. Here is the tale of Erica and Prince Zuko. Well, mostly this blog post is about Erica, but keep reading-- the part about the prince is coming up.

Erica started at MNA last July in a summer when many students found their dream internships unexpectedly canceled due to the pandemic. In fact, Erica lost out on an internship and was hunting for another one when she learned about an opportunity at MNA. Initially she wasn’t  thinking about doing an internship with a nonprofit because she says there is a stereotype that nonprofits won’t offer paid internships. “If you want new, fresh, diverse talent, companies have to promote that. A lot of us [students] don’t know that nonprofits are an option even.” While there are many unpaid internships in the nonprofit and for-profit sector, I can tell my readers that the internship experience at MNA begins with an actual offer letter. Erica told me she has never had an unpaid job and when she was searching for an internship, she bypassed any that were unpaid. She put it to me this way, “I have never had an unpaid job, I don’t believe in unpaid work.” She further elaborated, “Me and my peers have to have paid internships because we’re not supporting ourselves financially. We have bills and we don’t want to do the work and not get paid.” And researchers have backed up what students are saying. According to a study from the Harvard Business Review, “while internships are highly valued in the job market, research also shows that 43% of internships at for-profit companies are unpaid. As a result, only young people from the most privileged backgrounds end up being eligible for such roles. For those from marginalized communities, this deepens the generational wealth gap and actively obstructs their path to equal opportunity.”  Here at MNA, we are committed to building and maintaining a workplace of true inclusion, diversity, equity, and justice. We were fortunate to attract three amazing interns last summer after our head of human resources reached out and collaborated with officials at Michigan State University.

Working at MNA is Erica’s first stint in the nonprofit sector and she was placed on prominent projects here at MNA. When she first started last July, she was tasked with helping with our pandemic response and worked solely on our COVID-19 toolkit and webinar series. “To see my work published like that and to know that it’s really going to help other nonprofits and organizations, and people are actually going to use it [the toolkit] as a resource, that was just a great feeling,” she said.  When she returned for her second semester, she was handed an even bigger project. Erica was to be the lead for MNA’s “Return to Work” taskforce. Her first thought was: “Omgosh, I’m just an intern and they’re giving me this lead!” she laughed. Erica says although she was a little nervous, she was excited to roll up her sleeves and get to work on such an important project.  “I was so excited to call my dad and tell him about the work I was going to be doing. I am just really proud to tell people what I’ve been working on.” Because of the projects she worked on at MNA, Erica feels like she has gained hands-on experience and truly believes internships are important for all students before they enter the real work world. “What I have found is that even though you have a formal education, employers really want to see that you have some sort of work experience especially if you’re trying to get into an entry level position in your field. I think it’s super important just to have that work experience.” 

What you should know about Erica is that she is a competitive person by nature and so any project we gave her, she was not just going to complete it, she was going to kill it. “I want to be the best,” she explained. “Do your best, always try to do more,” is her motto.  Erica’s ambition started when she was just a child playing sports. “My dad is pretty competitive, and I think that is why I am competitive. I did martial arts, specifically Taekwondo which is a Korean martial art. I would go to tournaments and compete and always get first place.” Erica is currently of master ranking and if you ask her, she won’t shy away from telling you how good she still is at Taekwondo. 

In the brief time that I’ve known Erica, I would describe her as kind, hard-working, and oozing with confidence. But what really stood out to me about Erica was her devotion to her family--specifically to her younger sister, Rachel who has Down syndrome. Erica told me that her ambition and drive to succeed is because of Rachel. “I’m not her main caregiver currently, but I’m one of them and that really drives me to get a good job that pays well and has benefits because I know my mom is not going to be able to take care of her forever. And I’m ok with that. It’s cool. She is so much fun.” Apparently, Rachel is quite the social butterfly. The 24-year-old loves to get dressed up for nights out on the town. “She goes out way more than I do,” Erica laughed. “Before Covid, she was always going to some party or dance and I’m just sitting at home playing video games on the weekend. She is the coolest one out of the Song sisters.” Their youngest sister, Ava is also at MSU and will be a junior this fall. The green and white is a family affair.

Erica started her internship with us virtually because of the pandemic, but she says she never felt like she was in a silo. “All of my other work experiences have been in0P5A0178 for-profit corporate settings and it’s very political and hierarchical,” she explained. “But everybody at MNA has been so welcoming and supportive. It’s really just been a great work experience.” Now that Erica has graduated and finished her internship at MNA, she is moving on to the next phase of her life which includes finding full-time employment hopefully in Michigan.  She is a pure Michigander- born and raised in the mitten, and she thinks she’ll be here all of her life.  “I’m excited to work because I want to use the degree that I have a lot of debt for now,” she laughed. The entire team at MNA is rooting for her success and we wish her well in her future endeavors. 

zukoAlright, I teased that Erica had a prince in her life in the first paragraph of this blog post and I’m sure many of you are eagerly scrolling hoping I will get to that part of her story. You’re in luck. Erica has a dog named Prince Zuko. He is a Pungsan- a rare breed that originates from the mountains of North Korea. Pretty cool right?  “I’m not like a super fancy or bougie person, but he is one of the rarest breeds in the world,” Erica laughed. “I know this makes me sound really fancy, but I’m not. He’s so cute.” As a dog mom myself with a big, fancy, white goldendoodle, I’m totally not judging you, Erica. 

If you have an idea for a blog post, email me: tpitts@mnaonline.org