I talked to Juanita about her journey through the Emerging Leaders internship and why it’s such an important program for so many young people of color.
Elise: How did you find out about the EL internship?
Juanita: I found out about it from an ELI alum who participated in the first round. She told me about her experience—how awesome it was and how she made money. She urged me to apply that year, and I just did it. Because I was older (I was 29 when I applied), I don’t think I really understood the importance of internships and getting your foot in the door. I went to college later in life; there was a point where I realized I want to do more for myself, and that’s when I was like, “I’m going to go to college”—and I went to PSU.
So I applied to ELI in 2017, and the application process was a bit nerve-racking because it’s over a span of 5 to 6 months. The initial application, then the group interview, where you get to practice. It also felt like a competition, and at that point, you really want the internship! But then you have to wait to see if you’re matched with any companies. That’s when the nerves really hit. Once you’re matched, you have the interview.
When you grow up, you work all these odd jobs; I was working in retail for six years in management and realized I didn’t love it so much. And getting the ELI internship made me realize salaried jobs are awesome. And not just that—it’s something you can use your degree in, that you’re passionate about. It took a while for me to grow up, but I’m really happy where I am now.
“This internship pretty much shaped my life where I am right now.”
Elise: Your story’s a good example of how this internship isn’t just for 21-year-olds. Can you talk more about your actual internship?
Juanita: When I started my internship, I worked on various accounts. At first, it felt like, “Whoa, what am I going to be doing?” All those accounts were very different from each other. And I had daily struggles of not knowing what I’m doing. How am I helping on this account? The team was already in the middle of a project where I just didn’t know where I fit in, but everyone was really great at having me sit in meetings and making me feel part of the team. I got really good attention from them to build me into the project manager I am today. They had me do billable work for maybe the second month I started. That was really nice, to feel that they trusted me handling projects and eventually taking on those projects as an intern.
I got hired as a full-time junior project manager, and with that, I had a lot on my plate. It was overwhelming at times, but one of the things that I learned is you can say no. And you can tell your managers when you feel stressed. I also got pregnant during this time, I got married during this time. So my life was always on the go, go, go during my internship. It feels so long ago—it was a blur.
Elise: What were some good times of the internship?
Juanita: The culture! I did not know agency life at all until I got this internship, but I felt like I fit in right away. Everyone was pretty relaxed and funny. Really made me feel like I was part of the team. I was excited to go to the office cause I’d have my coffee, and there were snacks. And we had “Lunch ’n’ Learns,” where speakers from different disciplines would come in and we’d get lunch. We had a lot of cool perks in the office that were always good times. It was a good environment.
“Hiring diversely is great, but you also need to have a growth plan for them as well.”
Elise: Do you still keep in touch with Emerging Leaders alumni?
Juanita: Fortunately at Thesis, I’m able to keep in touch with some alumni and a couple of them are good friends of mine now. Eli and Allison—I talk to them almost every single day. And on my team now, I work with Nikki who is also an ELI alumnus. I would like to be part of that community because this was so important to me. This internship pretty much shaped my life where I am right now. So I would definitely love to give back. It’s awesome to see in Portland different people color getting jobs out of college—I think that’s really important.
Elise: What are your career goals for the future?
Juanita: Well, I did recently get a promotion to project manager—that was really awesome. In this role, I produce emails for a new team—it’s been nice seeing how this account can grow and create processes. Overall I have a lot of autonomy in this role, and it’s helping me grow professionally. Career-wise, I want to become a well-rounded project manager. So I am happy where I’m at, but down the line I would love to have a leadership position. I think hiring diversely is great, but you also need to have a growth plan for them as well. So if I could just stay on track with my growth plan, check in with my manager, and grow professionally as I am, that would be something I would like.
Elise: Totally agree. It’s not just about hiring interns of color—we also need leaders of color.
Juanita: The new team I’m on, the whole team is so diverse. So this something I have never experienced—I feel like I can be myself with clients and stakeholders. Everyone has different accents, you know? It’s really cool actually. That’s why I love being on this team. And you don’t realize how important that is to you until you’re on a team like that. We’re all on the same level, you know? It’s nice.
“You don’t need to know everything because that’s what this opportunity is for.”
Elise: Do you have any advice for incoming Emerging Leaders interns?
Juanita: Be yourself and know what you don’t know. Use this time to gain knowledge and ask questions. You don’t need to know everything because that’s what this opportunity is for. And that was something that I struggled with. My first week, I wanted to know how to do everything. I didn’t want to ask for help. I wanted to show off, you know. But use this time to gain knowledge, not just in your discipline, but in others’ too—talk to other people, get to know their experiences. That’s something that I recently learned too as a now 32-year-old. It sounds cliched, but no question is stupid. One of the things that I learned is you can say no, and you can tell your managers when you feel stressed. Have good, honest, open conversations and it’ll develop you personally and professionally. And people can feel when you’re being your authentic self too. Don’t put on a facade as something that you’re not—just go in with an open mind and do the best you can.