Emily – Gonzaga University

Public Policy Associate

Hello! My name is Emily Wakefield and I interned with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in the Public Policy office in Washington DC in the fall of 2011. I came to DC as a part of a program called the Washington Semester Program at American University.

I decided to intern with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for several reasons. I had never heard of the organization until I saw their booth at the American University internship bazaar. I wanted to find an internship that would be interesting, engaging, and give me a chance to learn firsthand about how the policy process works. At first I thought about interning on the hill, but I didn’t like the idea of just answering phones. I wanted real experience.  I had never thought about the fact that organizations like AFSP would of course have a policy office to advocate for legislation to support suicide prevention. Suicide prevention has been a deep concern of mine since I lost my best friend, Kyle, to suicide in January of 2010. Suicide affects all of us either directly or indirectly. Therefore AFSP was a perfect fit for me because they support an initiative that is very dear to me and I would also be able to gain experience for a future career attempting to further social change through public policy.

I absolutely loved working here the first day I started. John, Nicole, and Trevor are wonderful. I cannot imagine better people to have the opportunity to work with. I think that what I have appreciated most is that John, Nicole, and Trevor give us actual work to do. From what I have heard from friends about other internships, all they get to do is boring and remedial tasks. At AFSP you get to participate in the discussion about suicide prevention and make real contributions to the organization through the work that you do.

During the semester I mainly worked on two projects (of course, there were several other projects but this is what I focused on most during the semester.) First of all, all of the interns help with field advocate training phone calls.  Field advocates are volunteers who reach out to their members of Congress to encourage them to support important suicide prevention legislation. We call each volunteer that signs up and have a brief training call with them. Nicole did a wonderful job showing us how to do these calls and is always there to answer any questions you have about it. After listening in on several calls and doing a few on my own, it became one of my favorite parts about the internship. It was great getting to talk to people and hear why they care about suicide prevention. The other project that I worked on the most involved researching firearm safety laws and suicide prevention initiatives happening at the state level. I enjoyed working on this project the most because I enjoy researching. What I loved most about interning here though is that there were constantly new things to work on. I researched the firearm safety project throughout the semester but I always had another project to work on as well.

Interning with AFSP was also a wonderful experience because John, Nicole, and Trevor care about what you are going to take away and learn from the internship as well as learning from you. Most other internships love interns as free labor and give them the boring tasks their paid staff does not want to do. At AFSP you are actually a part of the team. We were also able to attend events such as Mental Health Liaison Groups meetings and a summit about advocacy and social media. These events immersed all of us in the discussion surrounding mental health and suicide prevention. Mental health is a complex issue and I was able to learn so much about it through the events we were sent to and day to day activities in the office. We were also never expected to know everything about suicide prevention and questions were always easy to ask. I feel like in many working situations we feel like our boss will think we are stupid or incapable if we need to ask too many questions, but I never felt like that at AFSP. Over just a semester I learned so much about mental health, suicide prevention, and public policy. I did not realize that I would be lucky enough to be in an environment where there was so much new and interesting information to absorb.

I highly recommend this internship to anyone who is interested in any combination of public policy, social change, mental health, suicide prevention, or politics. It has been a truly rewarding experience. We were given so many opportunities to go to events and do interesting work that no other intern I know of was able to. I feel that what we did this semester was even much more exciting than interning on the hill (the go to internship in DC and what most people in my class did). The experience that I have gained working with AFSP will benefit me in my future no matter what career I go into. We were able to go to exciting places, learn a lot, and complete valuable work. I can’t think of anyway that an internship would be more rewarding.