The Joys and Frustrations of Managing Young People

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Joys and Frustrations of Managing Young People
By Stephanie Chrispin, Public Policy Fellow, Philanthropy New York

Want to learn more about the Public Policy Fellows' goals and accomplishments? Join us for Members Want to Know: How are the Policy Fellows Doing? On October 26th.  

July marked my first full year at Philanthropy New York as the inaugural Public Policy Fellow. But this summer brought another milestone — the opportunity to manage our first ever high school intern, Tatianna Scott. Tatianna wrote about her time with us in an Insights piece in August titled “Every Experience Builds Expertise.”

Philanthropy New York’s high school internship was made possible by the Fund for 2025, specifically a special contribution by the Pinkerton Foundation. As a small part of the larger Public Policy Fellowship program, the internship intends to further extend the reach of the Fellowship program even deeper into the next generation of leaders.

High school students rarely have the opportunity to learn about the philanthropic sector as a possible career path, especially if they’re from under-resourced neighborhoods. The internship is an opportunity for both the high school student and for the Fellows to practice their leadership skills. It also provides the space for relationship-building and two way mentorship between the Fellow and intern.  

During those short six weeks, I learned a lot about myself as a manager and employee. A few lessons from this summer:

Assume No Knowledge. Tatianna is a bright, talented young woman who has accomplished a lot already in her 17 years. That being said, she had never worked in an office environment before. It hadn’t occurred to me that she would have never used Microsoft Outlook before! Acclimating her to Philanthropy New York’s work environment compelled me to check my own assumptions and work with her at her own pace. I had to remember that she was still in high school, and that even I didn’t use Outlook until I was in college. This small moment reminded me to acknowledge that my prior experience using Microsoft Office Suite was a privilege, and part of my role was to introduce the intern to the minutiae and idiosyncrasies of office life.

Lead with Time Management. Before this summer, I never realized how much time managers spend supervising their staff. I felt myself worrying whether the work I did give her was challenging but age-appropriate, and focused on explaining things in much more depth than I typically would. Oftentimes, I was so wrapped up in making sure that Tatianna clearly understood the projects I assigned her that I would barely have enough time to complete my own assignments. After spending several Fridays playing catch-up, I focused the remaining half of the internship on setting clear guidelines for myself to be a supportive but not suffocating manager, and prioritized my own tasks accordingly.

Share the Responsibility for Managing. When you have an intern who is on a limited engagement, it can be challenging to determine what projects he or she can do that will add value to your work and that of your organization, but isn’t so high pressure that mistakes could be disastrous. We determined that having Tatianna do data entry for an ongoing research project was not the right fit, because the chance that questions about the data arose after she completed her time with us could leave us unable to reconstruct what had been done and why. Mundane administrative support tasks felt insufficient for her to learn meaningful things about the sector and our organization. Only after chatting with several of my colleagues was I able to think backwards—first identifying what could help us and the staff improve the services we give to our members, and then pick areas where her input would be valuable. Their insights were essential to crafting a combination of tasks and projects for our intern that built upon one another while providing useful information for us to act upon.

Now that we’re into the fall, my relationship with Tatianna is shifting towards  mentorship. We’ve been meeting about once a month not only to work on her college application process, but also check-in on each other personally, e.g. how our personal lives are impacting our professional goals. I’m glad that the lessons I’ve learned going through this process myself can be passed on to her, and she brings up new questions that spur deep conversation and contemplation between us. Here’s to hoping that this next stage will be as meaningful and enlightening as our summer!