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Students Share 7 Tips to Optimize the Internship and Fellow Experience

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

Internship and Fellowship opportunities serve as important catalysts for students to implement their learning into real-world experience. They provide a stepping stone into the workforce, preparing students for professions and enabling them to practice, strengthen and hone their skills while exploring new experiences to complement and enhance their course work.

At DEI, we offer internship and Fellowship opportunities throughout the year, including the Student Fellows Program through the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG). This program facilitates partnerships between students and faculty by having U-M students work directly on educational software innovations that are housed within DIG, collaborating with DEI staff as well as faculty partners to assist in growing these initiatives to maturity.

DIG Student Fellows Dana Demsky, a Graphic Design Fellow,  and Jessamine Bartley-Matthews, a User Experience Design Fellow, shared their best tips for a successful internship or fellowship experience. Additionally, they described the impact the DIG Student Fellows Program had on their educational journey.  

Dana Demsky presents in front of TV screen

1. On preparing for the Fellowship experience

Dana: Congratulations! You got the fellowship! Before starting, make sure you prepare yourself professionally. This is a great opportunity to learn and grow professionally so you want to ensure you are taking it seriously.

Jessamine: If you’re anything like me, the moment you heard you’d gotten the Fellowship at DIG was an incredible mix of excitement and anxiety. It was so thrilling to have the chance to join such an amazing team. Own your new-ness and take stock of your talents, and then figure out what you’d like to improve. Having goals in mind will help you learn, learn, learn.

2. On what to expect on the first day (and for the semester)

Dana: What to expect for the first day? Expect nothing, but of yourself. Expect to be on time. Expect to give it your all. And, most importantly, expect to have a positive attitude that shows you are ready to start a great Fellowship experience.

Jessamine: Recently, a friend of mine said that she always strives to live a life full of ambition without expectation. I think it’s the perfect approach for design, because you never know what kind of interesting curve balls and challenges might come your way. There are some days where you’ll work through an interaction and realize you’ve nailed it on the first try; other days, you’ll sketch ten different approaches on the whiteboard only to realize that none of them make any sense. Don’t expect anything. Just prepare yourself to share ideas, ask questions and learn something new every day from the moment you walk in the door. There’s a lot to learn, and a lot of work to be done!

3. On what to expect from the Fellowship experience

Dana: The most valuable thing you can expect to gain from the Fellowship is a new way to look at problems and a new way to collaborate to solve those problems. It is a mind-opening experience that you can’t get from sitting in a lecture hall or discussion section.

Jessamine:  Expect to be challenged, to make new friends and to learn more about design (and about yourself) than you really thought possible. I was shaky in sharing my design ideas when I first began my Fellowship, but the past year really helped me find my voice as a designer. Expect great things.

Jessamine Bartley-Matthews pointing to TV screen during presentation

4. On working in a collaborative culture

Dana: Collaboration is the most important part of the Fellowship experience with DEI and DIG. Working with the full time staff and other high-achieving Student Fellows isn’t only inspiring, it’s also fun; it’s what makes you look forward to coming into work everyday.

Jessamine: There’s something really nice about working at DIG, and the collaborative workspace is a huge part of that. For me, one of the best parts of the experience is being able to look up from my sketchbook and find myself surrounded by my insanely talented peers, all of whom are willing to drop everything and help you work through problems at a moment’s notice. When you get stuck because you’ve been looking at something for too long, having someone take a look with fresh eyes can help you uncover things you hadn’t thought of previously. These collaborations and conversations are the types of impromptu things that lead to really great design.

5. On suggestions for maximizing the Fellowship experience

Dana: This Fellowship isn’t just a resume booster- it’s a life experience that is only valuable if you go in with an open-mind. I found at times that I gained more skills from the Fellowship than I did in my classes. The people working at DEI and DIG want to see you succeed- ask lots of questions while these amazing people surround you!

Jessamine: Ask questions! Even if you think they’re dumb. Even if you think everyone else in the room already knows the answer. Even if it makes you feel silly and insignificant. You might be the only one with your particular question, and often those simple questions can reveal big issues with a design. So, ask!

6. On the role of mentorship on professional work

Dana: When I started, I was paired up with the DIG User Experience designer, Mike Wojan, and he became my mentor at DIG, specifically, and in my professional life, in general. We started by setting up a list of desired goals for my Fellowship and he made sure that I got a chance to check all of these goals and skills off my list. Keeping these goals in mind was a wonderful way to make sure I was getting the full experience out of the Fellowship. Additionally, having him as a mentor proved to be a valuable resource and window into the “real” world of what it takes to excel in a professional and competitive field.

Jessamine: The mentorship has been huge for me. On ECoach, I have been fortunate to work alongside Ben Hayward (DIG Lead Developer) and Holly Derry (DIG Lead Behavioral Scientist), and what I’ve loved about our working relationship is that they challenge me to think through my design choices, poking holes until we reach something that meets students’ needs. They’ve helped me figure out how to talk about my work.The mentoring that students get at DIG is what really sets this Fellowship apart from other on-campus jobs.

7. On what to prioritize to optimize internship/Fellowship experience

Dana: Prioritize learning the hard stuff. If someone hands you a hard project request – even if you aren’t sure you can do it – take it. These are the experiences that will make you a better designer, coder, or whatever you want to be.

Jessamine: I wish I had done a better job of thoughtfully prioritizing my class and work schedules. Don’t pack all your work in the beginning of the week, because so many days will elapse between work days that it will be difficult to resume your train of thought and pick up where you left off.

Internship and fellowship programs can lead to unexpected experiences that build the path towards successful educational and career endeavors. With practical advice and key tips from Dana and Jessamine you can prepare for your own optimized experience within the internship and/or Fellowship sphere.

For more insight into DEI internships and the DIG Student Fellows Program, visit the Student Opportunities page.


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