I provided a comment for PRSA College of Fellows’ “Pearls of Wisdom” recently, reflecting on the impact that my supervisor during my US Army Training and Doctrine Command Public Affairs Intern beginnings had on my experience learning a new (for me) profession.
Clinton Parks was amazing. He cared deeply about every one of the 26 interns he was supervising, and I, like all of them, benefited.
From the beginning, he made sure that I got a few extra training opportunities because of my previous Air Force experience. I remember so clearly Clint saying to me, “You have more experience than any of the other interns, so I’m going to give you some different opportunities to learn more about public affairs.”
In the course of my 18-month internship, I worked in everything imaginable…
- wrote the script for and produced a community-service radio program,
- spent three months as a reporter for our base newspaper,
- spent three months at the local city newspaper office to see how “real” journalists operated,
- spent three months in the public affairs office admin office learning the ins-and-outs of administrative operations,
- spent three months in charge of the public affairs activities for the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) camp at Ft. Lewis, Washington,
- and, as a finale, was given a permanent assignment as Public Affairs Officer for the US Army Intelligence School at Ft. Devens, Massachusetts.
It was all pretty awesome, and I learned a TON in the process. But being put in charge of the PR activities for a 3,000-person (students, staff, faculty) school formally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges was a smidge daunting…especially since my predecessor had done a grand total of NOTHING other than alienate virtually everyone in the school and on the base. (Managed to get himself fired, too, no small feat for a government employee!)
Oh, yeah…and, on my very first day, when I formally met the commander of the school (the school “president”), I was greeted with “Why the HELL are you HERE??”
The enormity of it all hit me like a ton of bricks a few weeks into my assignment. Then one morning I was sitting at my desk wondering what I had gotten myself into when my phone rang. I answered, and a quiet voice on the other end said, “Kirk, it’s Clinton Parks. I just wanted to call and see how you were doing.”
How did Clint know that that was EXACTLY what I needed…a reassuring phone call from someone who I truly respected?? I unloaded on him right off the bat, asking if he thought this was going to work out. Clint quietly and calmly reassured me that I was already doing more than expected and that everything was going to be fine. We ended our chat, and I went back to my planning feeling much better.
The pattern continued. They weren’t regularly-scheduled calls. Clint just called once in a while “just to check in and see how things were going.”
This is something that I try to do to this day with students and anyone else who I have met who is trying to get his or her start in the professional world. A lot of the contacts are through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn; some are via email and phone calls. I’m not a “stalker,” though, so I generally wait for the other person to make the first move.
But, occasionally, I happen to see a comment that says, to me, “I really would like to talk to someone about my problem.” I post a short comment that tells the person I’m here if he or she wants to talk or offers a quick observation on his or her situation based on my own experience.
The point is, like Clinton Parks, I care, and I want anyone who I have met to know that he or she is not in this alone. It’s the simple importance of “being there.”