By Anarbek Yelshibayev – 2022 Edmund S. Muskie Professional Fellowship Alumnus
The Oxford English Dictionary (n.d.) defines a pearl as “a thing that is very highly valued” (Definition 5), and this precisely describes what Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) has to offer on its online platform PEARL, or Professional Education and Resources for Learning. Joining PSEA as a summer intern, I have helped its Education Services Department develop content for PEARL, through which PSEA members get access to a great range of learning and professional development opportunities.
My internship has been at the Association’s headquarters building which houses PSEA’s multiple departments and staff of more than one hundred people. Despite the fact that Monday was in its full swing, on my first day at work, I got to tour the entire building with my manager to meet all my new colleagues and to find out that the entire personnel had already learned my name and that I was an international student interning with PSEA this summer.
On this tour I could feel how welcoming the PSEA staff was: I was invited to stop by several departments to learn more about their work and roles in the organization. Also, some employees expressed deep interest in learning about life in my home country, and what people do and value there. This sort of intercultural exchange has occurred daily when dealing with our regular routine, when having quick chats and longer conversations, at meetings, over lunch – literally, every interaction at work has provided a moment for learning something new and sharing in turn. Experiences like these were exactly what I hoped to get from participation in the Edmund S. Muskie Professional Fellowship Program.
The first week of my internship has reaffirmed the statements we read in books about leadership and management: what an organization truly values manifests itself in things that can be both apparent and subtle. That people are definitely at the core of my host organization has been something I felt and observed at all levels. There is nothing to do with ultramodern office spaces or exclusive perks, at PSEA it is all about establishing effective interpersonal relationships and trust with colleagues and with union members. One example was an orientation day during which new PSEA staff participated in various icebreaker activities, played scavenger hunt, and enjoyed ice cream. Less officially, it would be conversations with the gardener about topiary and its therapeutic effects during my lunch break, soccer talks with the receptionist, or a comprehensive guide to local attractions from the IT manager. Indeed, such things contribute to building a climate of support and mutual understanding across individuals and various departments. At the same time, you may wish to express your artistry or design skills by decorating the office to your own taste.
High expectations set forth in my job responsibilities along with a unique opportunity to contribute to the Education Services Department’s projects have been truly motivating. From the very first day at PSEA I have had the feeling that I was not merely a temporary employee who was going to do some routine tasks. Instead, it has been made clear that I was a team member, that my work makes a difference to the organization, and that my ideas are very valuable. I have been a part of all the short-term and long-term projects, including developing online learning materials for PEARL and the 2022 Gettysburg Leadership Conference. Famous for the Civil War battle over the first three days of July 1863 and President Abraham Lincoln’s Address, the town of Gettysburg has now witnessed PSEA’s 75th Leadership Conference, an annual event where PSEA members come together to learn from each other, share stories, and celebrate their involvement in the Association. After very productive Conference sessions, I had time to explore the campus of Gettysburg College and experience the history of the Civil War.
Harrisburg, too, is known both for its beauty and rich history. The city played a major role in the Westward expansion of the U.S., the Civil War, and the Industrial Revolution. Historic buildings and architecture, the Midtown Scholar Bookstore as well as many museums such as the State Museum of Pennsylvania, the National Civil War Museum, Susquehanna Art Museum, Pennsylvania National Fire Museum are there for you to learn and explore. Taking the paths that span beside the Susquehanna River is another great way to immerse into the state’s and capital city’s history. There are numerous tiles and memorials along the riverfront that pay tribute to indigenous peoples, war veterans, firefighters, transportation workers, educators, and tell you unbelievable stories of many different people.
The PSEA headquarters is located in downtown Harrisburg right across from the Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex, so my colleagues encouraged me to attend the General Assembly’s sessions when the bills on education were on the agenda. Putting aside my personal stance on the issues discussed, I have to admit that the legislators’ wit and eloquence along with their passion made it a joy to be observing the meetings at the Capitol. Additionally, I joined my colleagues for the State Board of Education meeting where, among other things, the attendees were provided a report on the state budget, discussed the Master Plan for Higher Education, and learned some updates on the Department of Education’s plans for the upcoming school years. What I liked in particular was the public comment part when all the visitors could share their suggestions and express their ideas to the Board.
Overall, the Edmund S. Muskie Professional Fellowship Program has been absolutely amazing! The keys to our success have been the orientation and debrief sessions, the Global Competence Certificate educational program, and the ongoing support from the Program directors and officers. This internship opportunity has helped me continue to develop leadership, communication, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills, which are critical to my area of work and study and are in line with the intent of the Fulbright Program.
Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. (n.d.). Pearl. In Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/pearl
Note: This blog post was created as part of the 2022 Muskie Social Media Contest, in which Anarbek was one of the three winners.