IFC’s Summer Internship Program

For the first time in summer 2020, The Institute for Freedom & Community (IFC) hired four St. Olaf students to work as summer interns. However, this internship differed from a traditional summer internship, seeing as these students never met in person or in an office setting; all of their work was completed virtually, with the internship being hosted entirely online.

These students–Brendan Connolly, Jessica Horst, Nathaniel Snedeker and Saliem Hashel–worked as “Content Curation Specialists,” under the direction of The Institute’s assistant director, Erik Grell, and supervised by The Morrison Family Director of The Institute, Edmund Santurri. 

The term “content curation” refers to the process of gathering information relevant to a certain topic for the purpose of adding value to a specific collection of content. For the Institute, this meant adding supplemental materials to the webpages of the IFC’s past events, dating back to 2018. 

One of the elements that was added to each event’s webpage was a time-stamped transcript of the event. Each transcript is split into sections that indicate when the speaker changes topics, and these splits also provide the reader a rough timeline to follow throughout their reading of the transcript. One additional benefit to having written transcripts of past events is that St. Olaf students will be able to cite these works in their research, and reference them even if they didn’t attend the event itself. A searchable PDF also allows readers greater levels of access to the materials. 

Similarly, to make creating citations easier for students, all works referenced in the event can now be found listed under the “Featured Sources” tab at the bottom of each page. 

A third change that was made to the webpages of past IFC events was the addition of a “Video Highlights” section. These video highlights split the events into three parts so that viewers can watch the event in 30-minute segments. Additionally, each video highlight has five keywords pulled from the event and listed on the webpage so that viewers can choose to click on the segment of the event they are more interested in watching. 

Finally, each IFC event page now links to three other related events so that viewers have the option of continuing their learning and research in a related subject area. These changes not only make the Institute’s website more user-friendly, but they also curate the content on each page to the viewers’ needs. 

Two more big changes to the homepage of The Institute’s website were the revamp of the Leadership page, and the creation of a comprehensive compilation of all of the IFC’s past events. These are two of the areas on the IFC’s website that receive the most traffic, so making them easy to understand and navigate was another goal that the Institute had for their interns to complete this summer. 

As evidenced by these changes, the summer interns did a lot of work in a short amount of time, and impressively completed all of their work remotely, never meeting face-to-face due to coronavirus complications. 

According to intern Saliem H., “Working online on collaborative [projects] is definitely a different experience from working collectively in the same room. It requires more communication, simply because we are not in the same room to bounce ideas off of each other.”

This meant that oftentimes the interns had to work harder to ensure that all ideas were heard, and that all work being completed was approved by the IFC, because they were unable to discuss these things in person. One of the ways the interns ensured collaboration was by using the websites WordPress and in Google Docs; these two platforms allow for multiple people to work remotely on the same project, which made collaboration simpler among the interns

Another way that the IFC interns and assistant director Erik Grell kept in touch was via a daily Zoom meeting that was usually held at 9:00 a.m. A typical meeting consisted of groggy “hellos” from the interns, Erik’s screen freezing (leaving the rest of the interns wondering if he had said something important that they had all missed) and younger siblings practicing violin nearby  (creating a strange and ominous background track for the meetings). 

Regardless of how difficult it may have been for some of the interns to get out of bed on time, they all reported that this summer provided them with invaluable work experience. Intern Brendan C. says that he is “really grateful that this internship was created in wake of the coronavirus pandemic, because it has allowed me to gain valuable professional experience […]  Learning how to build a website is a valuable skill in today’s world that I otherwise might never have had the chance to acquire through my intended career path.”

As for the future of the IFC, be sure to watch for changes to website navigation, and follow The Institute on Instagram and Facebook to stay updated on upcoming events! All 2020-2021 events will be virtual, so the official IFC website will be the best way to stay connected to all that is going on. 

And if you’re a St. Olaf student thinking about your plans for next summer, you’re in luck! Assistant director of The Institute Erik Grell “would love to host additional interns in subsequent summers, either virtually or on campus.” He believes that there is “a real benefit […] for students to be living at home and saving money while also acquiring useful skills and practical experiences. If the Institute does end up hiring interns next summer, such internships would likely be remote.” 

Established at St. Olaf in 2014, the Institute for Freedom and Community encourages free inquiry and meaningful debate of important political and social issues among students, faculty, and the general public. To that end, the Institute sponsors a range of programming opportunities, in addition to a fall and spring lecture series, to further cultivate civil discourse within the context of the liberal arts.

Please visit the Institute’s website to learn more about its mission, subscribe to the Institute’s YouTube channel, and sign up for its quarterly newsletter.