Special Collections experience pays dividends for Lehigh junior at PA Dept of Revenue internship

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PA State Attorney General Josh Shapiro with Wilberto Sicard '20

The author is guest writer Wilberto (Berto) Sicard '20, an Africana Studies student and Special Collections assistant, pictured right with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

In Spring 2019, I was deep in the process of applying to several internships and came upon two competitive government internships in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the state’s capital and seat of government. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives sponsored the first internship, which consisted of working as an Archives Intern and performing the work of describing, preserving, and organizing the history of the House. The second internship was offered by the James A. Finnegan Foundation and required an essay competition. Following the essay competition, the Foundation selected between four to eight winners who were then assigned to a 10-week paid position within the state government. Additionally, the program featured weekly lunches with key Pennsylvania cabinet members and officials.

I applied to both internships and waited until later in the spring to find out the results. On a dreary Saturday afternoon, I received a call from Kathy Speaker MacNett of the James A. Finnegan Foundation. MacNett, a former Finnegan Fellow herself, informed me that I was one of the four essay contest winners. Several days later, I received an email from the PA House of Representatives with news that I was also selected to interview for the House Archives internship.

Naturally, the House Archives internship seemed like a perfect fit for me. Starting in the fall of 2016, my freshman year at Lehigh, I have worked as a student assistant with Lehigh’s Special Collections. I had acquired a lot of knowledge about archives over the years, which would clearly transition to working for the House. However, I ultimately decided to accept the fellowship with the James A. Finnegan Foundation. While the skills I developed through my work with Special Collection did not initially seem to fit with the Finnegan Fellowship, I quickly learned that these skills were invaluable to my summer experience.

For my 10-week internship, I was assigned to work in the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue (DOR). I completed a variety of projects through the course of my internship, primarily utilizing my research and writing skills. First, I wrote the entire department’s first annual report. This report highlighted the department’s accomplishments and progress toward its overarching strategic plan. Second, I developed a scenario planning workshop for the department’s management. This workshop focused on confronting future issues for the department and developing concrete, effective solutions. Lastly, I completed a rough draft of the department’s first newsletter focused on the Lean initiative. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf launched the Lean initiative within the state government, which focuses on allowing employees to develop improvements to government systems and processes. The Department of Revenue’s first Lean Newsletter spotlighted the department’s efforts to implement the governor’s initiative.

Throughout each of these projects, the skills I used and developed in my work with Special Collections proved essential. A majority of my work required extensive research and writing, both of which I use consistently at Special Collections. While describing and organizing large collections, such as Lehigh’s collection of the Dravo Papers, I routinely research people, places, events, and other relevant information. This experience has made me very familiar with research databases, which greatly assisted me when performing research for the state. I was able to easily identify the best places to conduct research and navigate those sources with ease.

Additionally, the writing I have completed for Special Collections prepared me for writing for the Commonwealth’s government. In my classes at Lehigh, I engage in deep, academic writing. My work for DOR required a different style of writing. The annual report and newsletter had to be shorter and more concise. In Special Collections, I gained experience with this style of writing while describing collections and writing blog posts. The short, factual sentences used to summarize DOR initiatives in the annual report closely matched the description of documents in finding aids, while the blog posts closely resembled the work required for the Lean newsletter.

Ultimately, I discovered that much of the work I conducted in Special Collections had positive applications to my summer internship in Harrisburg. Perhaps the most important skill from Special Collections that applied to my internship was the skill of independence. At Special Collection, Lois, Ilhan, and Alex routinely give me the freedom to make important, independent decisions in my work. When I was tasked with creating inaugural reports and novel management workshops for DOR, this prior experience proved to be the most important factor to my success as an intern.