Today we are featuring Abby Sonnier, a research department head intern at the Digital Media Engagement team of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Department heads lead their teams by collaborating with other interns, resolving questions and providing feedback on projects. Abby is currently a senior studying at the University of Mississippi and has recently adopted a 9-month-old dog.
What department do you work for, and what is your role?
I am a department head for the research department, and I help to manage a team of 20 interns working on projects within the Digital Media Engagement (DME) team. Part of my job is addressing questions from interns in the research department and solving problems within the team. Working in the research department requires significant fact-checking of all DME projects each week.
Why did you decide to apply for this internship?
There are a number of people in my family who have served in the military. I spent a year in U.S. Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which gave me an appreciation for the military. I love the feeling of comradery, and any way that I can support that is very fulfilling.
I was looking to develop better leadership skills and came across an internship with the Department of Veterans Affairs. I felt that the internship would challenge me to grow my leadership and communication skills, especially since it is completely virtual. Five out of six of my past internships have been online, so I was confident that the virtual format would suit me best. Going to school in rural Mississippi, there are not as many internships in government and security as other areas, and in-person unpaid internships are extremely expensive. Because the DME internship is completely online, there is no commute time—it is as simple as switching tabs. Even if you have a job or school, you can make it work!
What do you study in school, and how has it prepared you for this internship?
I am currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in public policy and leadership. I have taken many classes that have helped me in this leadership role, such as research methods, public policy and intelligence and philosophy of leadership. What I do at work every day involves lots of open-source information and intelligence-related research. Communication is the key to good leadership. First, I stay in contact with the other research department head, Crystal Moore, who I have a great working relationship with. We have frequent conversations and meetings, so that we are on the same page with our interns. Because we have to work with interns in other time zones, I make sure to have a monthly check-in with each intern. I also make sure that all questions are answered in a timely manner. Our goal is to support everyone the best we can so that we’re all on the same page.
What is a typical day like, and what projects are you working on?
A typical day starts with checking Slack and making sure there are no unread emails. I check Trello at least once per week and do some fact-checking from time to time. Everything needs to be documented from top to bottom. Writers put out their drafts, and we go line by line on interviews and Veteran stories. We are the last line of defense for catching factual mistakes, so it is imperative that we do our jobs diligently. For example, on an audio recording, there was a statement that mentioned an incorrect military base in Houston. We were able to change that before publishing. I think it is fun to catch mistakes!
Would you like to share any words of advice for prospective interns?
First, when applying, really detail why you want to be here. What personal connection do you have with Veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs? There are many other departments in the VSFS program, and it can really make a difference if you show specific interest. You can really tell when a person has a special connection with the organization when they put in the extra effort to research our team. Second of all, please don’t apply if you don’t check your email and don’t reply to messages! I know my interns very personally because of their participation. Communication is important, especially in a virtual environment. Pick a department that you are passionate about and would love to work in every day! The information that you learn from others, such as interview tips, mock interviews and advice from people in grad school is invaluable. You will spend a lot of time in this program—think of how you can help your fellow interns and make the department better. Most importantly, if you think you want to do it—just apply! I have made amazing connections and learned a lot in this internship.
For more information on the application process, please visit: https://www.dmeinterns.org/application-information/
Interviewer: Thomas Tai
Editors: Julia Pack, Christine Myers
Graphics: Grace Yang