Working Behind The Scenes As A Communications Intern

Summer intern Kathryn Wagner hands out goodie bags during a ceremony marking the start of the Water Mine expansion project at Lake Fairfax Park.

Summer intern Kathryn Wagner hands out goodie bags during a public event to celebrate the start of the Water Mine expansion project at Lake Fairfax Park.

“When Judy handed me these assignments, I realized this internship was actually going to be a valuable learning experience. I was going to learn how to write press releases and PSAs in Associated Press style, media relations terminology, how to effectively communicate and so much more.” Kathryn Wagner, summer intern

On my first day as a summer communications intern at the Public Information Office, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into, but I can tell you that my expectations for the level of work I would be doing weren’t too high (quite frankly, I was mainly hoping for good coffee). As a rising senior at the College of William and Mary, I knew I had to get a coveted summer internship to have even a chance of getting a job after graduation. I desperately applied to 20 internships and after getting rejection after rejection, I thought my summer was going to be a boring, uneventful one. Yet, on one fateful day in May, I was offered a paid eight-week internship at the Park Authority (my internship was funded through a different program).

On the morning of my first day, I put on a newly purchased black suit and packed some public relations books in my mom’s tote bag (even though I am a Kinesiology and English double major, I didn’t have prior experience working in the public relations field). Basically, I was overdressed for what I thought was going to be an internship getting coffee and filing documents. Imagine my surprise when my supervisor Judy Pedersen, the agency’s public information officer (PIO) asked me to “take a stab at” writing several public service announcements (PSAs) and drafting a speech for a Park Authority Board member!

There is really something to be said when your internship supervisor is willing to take the time to see what you can do. Internships are supposed to be learning experiences, but interns can’t learn if supervisors aren’t willing to teach them. When Judy handed me these assignments, I realized this internship was actually going to be a valuable learning experience. I was going to learn how to write press releases and PSAs in Associated Press style, media relations terminology, how to effectively communicate and so much more. And, of course, there were skills outside of communications that I learned – how to network, common business etiquette and to always, always double-check your work. I couldn’t have had such a profitable and valuable experience if Judy and my other coworkers weren’t willing to invest in me by helping me around the office and trusting me to do important tasks.

One of the first things I learned about the Public Information Office was that it’s actually one small family. There are only five employees in the office: Judy, Matthew Kaiser, deputy PIO, Diana Fuentes, administrative assistant, and Internet architects Jeff Snoddy and Mary Nelms. Yet, on my first day, I was quickly reminded by Mary that there are actually six employees this summer. She was including me. Needless to say, the office definitely treated me like one of the team, part of the family. They truly integrated me into the entire Park Authority. On my first day, Diana took me around to meet everyone in the Park Authority who was located at headquarters. And everyone was genuinely interested in meeting me, making me feel welcome and wanted.

My favorite part of my internship was how much opportunity I was given. I had the opportunity to prove myself and, as a result, get more writing assignments. I had the opportunity to network as Diana and Judy thoughtfully introduced me to other employees and higher-ups, including the Park Authority director and deputy directors. I had the opportunity to go to public events such as ribbon cuttings, ground breakings, dedications and public comment meetings. At public meetings, I got to see the democratic process in action. It’s a lot more meaningful to personally see how a government agency impacts and affects the citizens it’s serving. At one public hearing, a local residential community was discussing the effects of a proposed picnic pavilion. It’s ultimately all about the people, so I appreciated being able to go to special events. Plus, at one ribbon cutting, my district Congressional representative, Gerry Connolly, said “thank you” to me.

The Park Authority truly loves the internship program. If you think about it, as a Park Authority intern, you are demonstrating that you want to learn more about this organization. And your desire to learn, to put effort into an organization that serves your own community, is something that the Park Authority values. When you are young, filled with ambition and fresh, new ideas – you, too, can make a difference as a Park Authority intern.

Written by Kathryn Wagner, summer communications intern

Kathryn Wagner

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

HISTORY: • On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. • To date, 11 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2008. Another Park Bond Referendum will be held in November 2012. Today, the Park Authority has 420 parks on approximately 23,168 acres of land. We offer 371 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park System is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: o Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist. o Eight golf courses including Laurel Hill, our newest, upscale course and clubhouse located in Southern Fairfax County o Five nature and visitor centers. Also seven Off-Leash Dog Activity areas o Several lakes including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax o The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter o Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel o An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter o Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel o Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent o A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly o A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale o Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community o Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center o Provides 274 athletic fields, including 30 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 500 school athletic fields PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: • A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. %

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