Mentoring Interns

Aliza Kline is the Founding Executive Director of Mayyim Hayyim, and a member of the JOIN for Justice Board of Directors. At JOIN, we consider mentorship to be one of the essential aspects of leadership development, which is reflected in the structure of our legacy programs, the Jewish Organizing Fellowship and the Seminary Leadership Project. Aliza has developed a long standing internship program at Mayyim Hayyim. We asked for her reflections on what it means to be a mentor and how she has incorporated mentorship in her work at Mayyim Hayyim, developing Jewish community leaders.

“You should never, ever be bored working here” – I am not sure if the scores of interns who heard me say this over the years interpreted it is a threat or a promise. What I meant was that their time should be so well-spent, so challenging, so full of learning, working, messing up, trying again and finally accomplishment, that they would never feel “bored.”

I’ve heard of many cases where interns were encouraged to “shadow” to “observe” and “take in” their internship rather than expected to contribute to the organization. I am not much of a “watch from the sidelines” kind of person.  Who has the time?  I simply assume that anyone interested in interning with me or with my organization is ready to work hard, ready to learn, to take risks, to try new things and to be curious. I expect a lot. Like so many understaffed, mission-driven non-profits, Mayyim Hayyim needed these interns, and was ready to incorporate them into the professional team on day one. But working with an intern is not the same as working with a staff member.

Interns have learning contracts – or should. They need to be able to articulate what they are hoping to gain from the internship: general learnings and specific skills. I cannot promise that they will get that, but I can certainly work with them to match their needs with our work as best as possible. I can promise them transparency, exposure to the strategic thinking behind our organizational growth. As a supervisor, I am always ready to talk, but I almost never have the time carved out in my schedule. So that means the interns need to learn, early on, how to manage up. How to schedule the meetings, to come with their own agenda, to get the questions answered and to share what they’ve learned and when they are ready for more.

For an organization, interns can provide new perspective, new energy, more hands on deck. They are usually younger, which means they speak social media. When Hannah White, now on the team at JOIN for Justice, was Mayyim Hayyim’s graduate intern, she established our blog, she trained our board using Facebook, all the while honing her presentation skills and getting access to our top lay leaders.

For me, as an intern supervisor, there is a whole other set of benefits. I get to teach, to coach, to mentor. I get the thrill of working closely with someone eager to learn and help that person shape a career path. I get to set a level of excellence that they will carry with them in their next professional positions and I get to / have to model the kind of professional collaboration and support that I know will benefit us both and help the intern do the best work possible. It’s gratifying to see someone grow and evolve, to watch an intern afraid to make phone calls close a first campaign solicitation.  I find it energizing to help a rabbinical student articulate how she relates her work at Mayyim Hayyim to her personal relationship with God and to the spiritual leader she hopes to be.

Each intern brings a personal story, unique learning goals, and of course, gifts to share with our organization and with me, the lucky supervisor.

How has mentorship played a part in your career? What have you gained in your role as a mentor or mentee?

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