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Internship Report: MSU Student Gets Public Policy Experience at Michigan Nonprofit Association

By Tammy Pitts - Director of Communications

When the pandemic struck in 2020, many internships were canceled that spring and summer impacting students who were counting on those jobs and professional experience. The connections internships enable can be crucial for job seekers, especially seniors who are in their last year of college. 

Fortunately, Michigan Nonprofit Association transitioned to virtual paid internships, and we were lucky to nab Ethan Lazrado who served a couple of semesters as a public policy intern at MNA. Ethan’s major is international relations and this fall, he will be entering into his final semester at Michigan State University. While at MNA, he worked closely with External Affairs Officer Joan Gustafson, Mariana Martinez, Director of Civic Engagement Initiatives, and me.

I love working with interns. I have had many interns over the years of my career and it is always a rewarding experience for me. I’ll never forget the mentors I had when I was a young college student myself starting out in journalism. So, I strive to do what I can to help develop the next generation of workforce employees. We're saluting our MNA interns this week, and I am starting with Ethan.  I sat down with him for this interview where we discussed his stint here at MNA, his goals, and future plans.   

Let’s start with your experience as an intern at MNA. Did you enjoy it?  

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. I felt from the very first day that I fit right in. There weren't any barriers between me or anyone else. I loved meeting new people.

Speaking of new people, a lot of us were new to MNA last fall. You started a couple of weeks after me I believe.

Yes, from that perspective of the external affairs team being new, seeing us grow, the things that we worked on and discussed --that was a great learning experience for me. I learned a lot about what the nonprofit sector is like and what an actual professional career is like. Mariana’s perspective with community outreach and how she reached out to different organizations and got the job done. I learned from Joan who has years and years of experience on how to build relationships and how to make things happen for nonprofits. That was an incredible experience that I don’t think any textbook or class could have prepared me for.

What would you say was the highlight of your experience at MNA?

I had a one-on-one conversation with Donna (president and CEO of Michigan Nonprofit Association). The conversation with her was after she returned from her sabbatical, and that was the highlight of my experience here. Just seeing what her goals were and that she took the time to listen to me- the public policy intern at the organization. (laughs) I enjoyed that. It felt good. To be able to talk to the CEO and share your viewpoint from being at the very bottom of this organization--not in a bad way- I’m an intern (laughs). That was very profound for me- the fact that MNA cares enough to get every single person’s perspective, it really set a high bar from any other organization that I worked with. I’m thankful to MNA for that.

Why do you think it’s important for college students to take an internship?

I think it’s necessary to just figure out what you like and what you don’t like. I think it’s important for college students because it really narrows things down. I really didn’t enjoy a couple of my past internships, and that showed me that if this is something I don’t enjoy, then I need to shift my focus away or look into other areas in the future. It’s important to do that in college. Frankly, you’re not taking a lot of risk. I don’t have my degree yet, I don’t have a family to feed. Yes, I have bills and yes, it helps to have a job and I think the fact that MNA pays (its interns) is a huge factor.

What skills did you learn?

How to work quickly. The biggest skill and probably the one that shocked me the most was the fact that public policy is a faster paced environment than I would have imagined and so I had to get acclimated to that kind of working speed. From my own experiences, I thought I already worked at a fast pace. I have been leading organizations since high school (National Honor Society, school vice president and other cultural organizations). But within a month of working here, I was like, I don’t know fast pace at all. Another skill I learned was how to communicate and move things along quickly. Communication is steady and ongoing. I was more used to a method of “finish what you’re doing and present it," whereas here we discuss, and it’s fast paced, but once we get to the final product, we’re at the final product and it’s constant communication throughout. I think that is a huge skill and I know that moving forward in the public policy sector and law sector, that it’s a skill that I’m really going to need.

While you were working with Joan in public policy, you were also working with Mariana on the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC) initiative. What projects did you work on for ICRC?

I aided Mariana in a lot of the initiatives that she wanted to put forward. The newsletter was a big one. I made sure she had what she needed for presentations, training sessions and I helped to facilitate some of the ICRC sessions and handled data. I also helped Joan start a national coalition.

You also helped me with slides and different things I had going on in the communications department, and I am grateful for your help. You were juggling all of this with school, right?

Yes, with school and my work here at MNA, and also studying for the LSAT (law school admission test). I learned a lot this semester (laughs). 

Did you get a chance to mingle with any state lawmakers?

Yes, I did. That was at the beginning of my internship and it really set a nice tone for me. Within the first week, Joan had me meet with two senators and I was like, “oh wow.” Obviously, I wasn’t going to say much because I was going to let Joan do the talking. But every now and then, the senators would ask if I had a question, and I asked my question. If I get that opportunity, I’m not going to NOT ask a question. (laughs) I enjoyed meeting those lawmakers and seeing what they had to say and seeing how the public policy process works. It was interesting to be close to that process even if I was just on the sidelines watching.

A public policy internship attracted you because?

I’ve been pretty interested in public policy for some time now. I’m very heavily leaning towards a law degree with a focus on international law and also a master’s degree in public policy. Or a master’s in international relations. The goal is to do something with NGOs in the future. I either want to do international law or humanitarian law, so the public policy internship was huge for me because I wanted to figure out what the sector is like, what the work is like and to see how intimate you get with communities. I just really didn’t know what those things were before this internship. 

Where are you going to law school? What is the goal?

I don’t set the bar too low for myself. I want to go to NYU- that is my goal. The only thing left is the LSAT. I don’t think it is out of reach for me at all. I got into NYU as an undergrad, but I didn’t go because of the money. And I told myself that I would be going there. And so, I’ve just been motivated for the past couple of years with the mindset that it didn’t matter where I went to undergrad, because I am going to NYU for law school. Their international law program is number one.

Are you ready to leave Michigan?

I feel like it’s time for me to get out of here. I don’t want to live with regrets.

What are your plans for this summer?

I’ll be here for another month until my LSAT is over, and then after that is done, I will go home.

I’ll have two weeks of not doing anything. I plan to visit a friend on the East Coast for a few weeks. I’ll be back in Michigan/East Lansing in August.

Where is home?

Troy.    

You gush all the time over your family’s new puppy. What is his name?  

Toby. A Yorkipoo. He just had his 6-month birthday (laughter).

What are your plans for your final semester of school?

Law school applications open up in the fall. It’s a rolling admission. Once you submit it, they’ll be looking at it. It’s most beneficial to apply early, so ideally, my deadline will be the first day that admissions open. I’m also doing a thesis next year, and I’ll be busy doing research.

Yikes! You’re busy!

(Laughter)

Ethan has been a great asset to the staff at MNA and we wish him well in his future endeavors. Stay tuned for another interview coming soon with our human resources intern, Erica Song. For blog submissions: tpitts@mnaonline.org