My role with Ohio Student Association was multi-faceted. It was titled the Cincinnati Regional coordinator. My main job description was to run the student portion of the get out the vote campaign for issue 1, while also trying to build long term commitment to community organizing. Another aspect of my job was to leverage my technical skills in computer science to build a functioning website that would better serve the needs of the organization and make it easier to connect to students.
My understanding of my limitations and capabilities shifted in this position. Whereas I walked into the position nervous about my ability to run the Cincinnati campus campaign by myself, I walked away from the experience having learned a lot about my strengths as a leader and my ability to pull people together around a cause. I also learned a lot about the best ways to build a new community on a campus. My perception of what working for a non-profit would be like also shifted. I used to see it as bureaucratic positions with drudge work that killed your passion for helping people, or at the very least burned you out.
In large part because of how small my non-profit was, I think that good leadership played a strong role in my perception of the organization and my changing perception of what working for a non-profit might look like. Because there were few employees stationed in Cincinnati, my ideas were formative to the plans made. My boss also gave me access to the decision making process, making me feel like my thoughts and considerations really mattered. In turn, I felt a lot of responsibility to the organization and to the cause, as if the decisions I made would impact how the campaign in Cincinnati played out.
I also had a lot of autonomy in how I scheduled my day and how I worked. This gave me insight into how burnout tends to be a combination of work pressure and personal habits. At the beginning of my internship, because of the thin separation between personal life and work life at this job, I felt like I was in a constant state of being on the clock. Much of my work flowed throughout my day, along with meetings being scheduled at any time of the day. Although I enjoyed the work, it was really difficult for me to make time for myself and take care of my personal needs. I knew that in a position like this for the long-term I would need to start practicing setting personal boundaries. I worked to start scheduling the time that I spent working and the time that I spent not working, and though I still felt unintentional pressure from my boss to keep working past those boundaries, I began the process of learning the most efficient way to work and still give myself time off.
Another thing that stuck out to me about the experience was about how different non-profits that we worked with had their own systems. Ohio Student Association, with its own funding sources and small ladder of command made it easier for me to interact with my boss and boss’s boss. At times, the person who ran the organization would come to see the work I was doing and we would get to talk about the future of the organization. At one point he and I had a conversation where we got to discuss what future employment with OSA might look like and a vision of the future of the organization. Other organizations with bloated structures and less personal interactions didn’t seem to have the same personal level of mentorship and as a result lacked in the personalized development opportunities.
This was a really important experience for me because it gave me an opportunity that I wouldn’t otherwise have to experience a field that is relatively separate from the world that computer science majors generally enter. Before we enter college, and sometimes throughout, we are fed a narrow definition of what success is and what job stability is, and the fear of failure makes it difficult to take opportunities that are off the beaten path. OSA and its incredible culture allowed me to see a non-profit opportunity that could combine my relevant skills with my passion for community organizing, and that’s an experience I will always be grateful for.