Cultivating Digital Wellness Kait Kovach's Internship Experience at the Digital Wellness Institute
September 30, 2021
Hi! I’m Kait Kovach, a senior at Chapman and my major is communication studies with an interdisciplinary cluster in Leadership. I spent my internship with the Digital Wellness Institute as a T.A. for their summer cohort. The institute certified students who passed their course as digital wellness educators. I am proud to say that while I interned, I also took the course as a student and earned my certification as a digital wellness educator. My time with DWI was invaluable and I loved every minute of it.
First, I would say that all the objectives that I set for myself as their T.A. were met and accomplished. Overall, my goal was to provide support to the DWI team and their students while remaining connected to them as I learned about the new world of digital wellness. Being a student in the school of communication helped me anticipate the needs of the students during this course. While I’ve never been a T.A. before, I would say that I did a good job at supporting the DWI team and their students. (But don’t worry, my team echoed this too. I’m not just tooting my own horn). I did this by maintaining a connection to the students before they needed help, answering their questions in a timely and thoughtful manner, editing and uploading recorded class calls the day they occurred so that students had fast access, taking initiative on creating updated homework documents that allowed for ease of use and collaboration, grading assignments while giving personable feedback and encouragement and I also took the initiative and risk of making decisions for various things so as not to inundate my team with unnecessary and frequent questions. One of my higher-ups at DWI said that taking those small risks allowed the team the freedom to focus more on the back-end needs as the institute grows and expands.
Picking one of the best moments while working with DWI is difficult because I experienced multiple moments where I felt a greater sense of fulfillment and joy. (This was simply because a lot of the core values at play within DWI matched up with my own so things fit together quite nicely.) I had satisfying moments that ranged from:
- providing personable support to individual students and their needs
- creating new friendships with the students
- seeing my work finalized into documents that looked professional.
Ultimately, there was an email I received from one of the co-founders after our last official meeting. She was impressed with my work, asked me to come back if I needed any more internship hours, and wanted to keep a connection with me since they are growing quite rapidly. When I read that, I was thankful and ecstatic because not only was my hard work recognized, but I also would love to continue to work for this company. The feeling was mutual, and I also felt extremely accomplished. I cannot express enough gratitude for my experience with DWI because it’s easy to see that this company is giving back to the world in ways we need it most as we are now shifting into a more digital work dynamic. The heart of DWI centers on cultivating healthy and productive relationships with technology by focusing on specific areas of life that can be applied both personally and professionally.
The School of Communication helped equip me with not just an understanding of what goes on theoretically within interpersonal and small-group relationships, but other classes helped inform my approach to conflict communication. Two classes from the School of Communication helped me establish best practices for conflict communication. I relied a lot on concepts taught to me from the Mindful Communication class and the Power, Conflict, and Negotiation class. I’ll mention these two classes again later because these courses offered such practical information. I think that every student in the school of communication would benefit from taking both courses. When looking at conflict or non-violent communication contexts, both classes in some way ask the questions of what do I contribute to this situation? What are all the needs of those involved? And, how can I find or create satisfaction for all who are involved while moving forward? These questions got me through the tougher moments during my internship.
This brings me to one of the biggest challenges I faced while interning. While nothing outrageous occurred, there were two moments where I had to be very direct with students because there were some who were at risk of not passing. Having the conversation about underperformance and work that did not meet the set requirements were tough. This was particularly intimidating for me as some students carried not just BA degrees but also various Master’s, Ph.D. degrees, or other honorable certifications. So, I knew that these individuals were more than capable of completing the final assignment according to the standards set before them.
For context, I initially had this idea that those who carried such prestigious degrees wouldn’t take feedback from me or would somehow challenge me in a capacity that I couldn’t understand or work with. It’s as if this insecurity of mine had formed in the back of my head that I wasn’t qualified to give constructive feedback or deny work since I still technically didn’t hold a degree myself. However, I reminded myself that I’m still currently a student so my familiarity as a student would lend itself to help me. This is where I relied on some course concepts from the two communication classes I mentioned earlier to help get me through these moments. One moment was turning tense but I managed to dissipate it by providing information and following it up with kind and inquisitive questions. The other moment (while awkward at first) turned into something very helpful and informative. I did this by defining my goal as one that wanted to help this individual pass and get their certification because I knew that this was likely all they wanted. I made sure to shift my message into one that was encouraging, kind, and open to collaboration while also conveying that the work that was turned in was off the mark. Which was far better than “If you’d like to pass, do this over again.” Through shifting my attitude and reframing my purpose and goals, I was able to uncover what was going on in the personal lives of these students and then meet them in the middle. I thought for sure that I was going to instigate unnecessary conflict, but I found the opposite. The students that I had to have this conversation with were understanding and grateful for the opportunity to try again and receive an extension.
The most practical help this experience gave me was being able to practice having more conflict conversations. I feel as though I gained an ability to step into conflict areas with more confidence. This is very important because tough, uncomfortable, and direct conversations are always going to occur no matter what field or environment we find ourselves in. To take it even further, it is better to be the one who initiates those conversations from a place of curiosity and desire for reconciliation or connection. This helps keep us in line because we don’t know it all (even if we think we do), and it helps us bridge understanding even in the face of anger or other rough emotions that might be driving ourselves and others. Initiating the hard but necessary conversations is a lifelong practice to rely on if we want to succeed in life.
The biggest lesson and revelation I learned was first, attitude shapes everything. Your attitude is what you bring to an environment, it reveals who you are, and it reaches out to others more than you think it does. Second, as I mentioned before, I felt out of place since I found myself in an environment that had PHDs, Doctorates, Authors, TED speakers, University Professors, and other impressive titles and roles. I felt out of place, and it was easy for that imposter syndrome voice to start talking but after I pushed through, I realized that these were all just people who gathered online simply because they wanted to learn something new. And I was one of those people. These accomplishments and titles (while respectable and impressive) were only just that when looking at why everyone chose to be enrolled in the course. Somehow, I lost sight of the fact that they were all still people who craved the knowledge the course provided, and if anything, they had something to teach me too. I’m certain that imposter syndrome moments like this pop up now and then for everyone. Especially as undergrads, I’m sure it’s easy for us to feel this way as we step into new roles that are formal. Even truer when we find ourselves surrounded by professionals and experts in various capacities who are much more experienced and “higher up” than we are when we first start.
Overall, I feel as though my time with DWI revealed that I belong in a field where I have opportunities to teach, inspire, and walk others through their learning experiences. I have been playing with the idea of being a teacher or coach as a profession for a while now so, it was nice to find an organization that helped me see that I thrive in environments where I can do just that. DWI created an environment that cultivated both my personal and professional digital wellness needs.
I would like to end with giving some advice for anyone considering doing an internship. First, find something that excites or intrigues you and dig around to see if you can uncover more information on the company. For example, what are their values, goals, and mission statement? You want to find something that makes you feel as though you could thrive in the environment they create. Next, don’t worry too much about interning – yeah, it’s new and could be a little intimidating but it’s always good to try something new! When you take the initial step, remind yourself that this is a learning experience so stay open and inquisitive (especially if you make some mistakes- mistakes are good), take initiative, work hard, and say yes. You never know where things may lead you and that should be exciting because that’s life. I believe that taking initiative, working hard, and saying yes helped me learn more than the average person in this role as T.A. It also helped me form a connection to the Digital Wellness Institute that will continue enriching my life. Finally, to all the School of Communication students out there, I highly suggest taking the Mindful Communication class and the Power, Negotiation and Conflict class if you can. They are game-changers!