Intern’s advice: Start Small, Dream Big


Julia Boccagno focused on building her resume and experience before applying for a Dean’s Internship.

Dean’s Intern Julia Boccagno at National Geographic.

“Mom, one day that’s gonna be me– I’m going to be a Dean’s Intern.”

And then, it happened.

Three years ago while touring the School of Communication (SOC) at American University with my mother, I remember walking down a hallway in MGC whose walls were cluttered with posters and bulletin boards broadcasting academic programming and possible internship opportunities for enrolled students. Despite the many vibrantly colored posters, one specific advertisement immediately captivated my attention; it was one that highlighted recipients of the SOC Dean’s Internship Program.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Dean’s Internship Program at American University offers its students a distinct advantage among other collegians. The Dean’s Internship Program partners with prestigious companies, such as the Washington PostNPR and USA Today, and restricts the application pool to only include SOC American University students–thereby greatly decreasing external competition. The incredible opportunity to work for such a reputable company causes all upperclassman (including Master’s students) in the School of Communication to battle over a limited number of available positions.

Dean’s Interns are not only given the chance to network with some of the biggest names within the media industry, but are also viewed as “SOC external ambassadors.” They are featured on the School of Communication’s website, required to blog about their experiences and are expected to serve as the “face” of SOC.

When I first saw the Dean’s Internship poster, I was the typical overly-excited potential college student–bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Everything seemed perfect– the school, the people, the opportunities. At the time, I was completely unaware of the competitiveness of the program, but that didn’t stop me from outwardly exclaiming my dreams to anyone who would listen.

When reality, and unfamiliarity, set in during that first semester of Freshman year, I promised myself that I would “throw my soul through every open window,” and not be a passive bystander. I would take risks, embrace challenges, learn new skills, with hopes of making myself a competitive candidate for the internship program. I recognized, at the time, I was by no means the perfect applicant, but I knew that I could create myself into one.

It wasn’t an easy journey. More often than not, I was always criticized for my devoted work ethic and mocked for representing the typical “Type A” personality. I felt like I had to constantly explain myself– why I couldn’t go places or do certain things.  People just didn’t understand. At one point, I got sick of constantly defending myself. Instead, I let their comments fuel the fire within me.

I started small. I became engaged with several organizations on campus, volunteered in the D.C. area and ensured to excel academically. Eventually, I refined my cover letter and resume and sent internship applications to over 20 non-profit organizations. After an emotionally and mentally exhausting process of no progress, one organization finally decided to hire me. From that moment, I built upon my experience–step by step– and everything eventually came together.  I gained the communication experience I needed to launch my career. After landing one internship after another, I began to exude confidence. I told myself, “I will do this.”

I applied on a complete whim.  Finally meeting the junior status requirement, I submitted the necessary application materials with the goal of only getting my name out there–maybe scoring an interview if lucky.

Within 72 hours of the application deadline, I became the Communications Intern at National Geographic. It’s safe to say that I was experiencing a whirlwind of emotions during the first week of classes. Even as a naïve high school senior, I knew what I wanted out of the college experience. I chased my dreams and never looked back.

The Communications Internship at National Geographic has been a truly remarkable experience. I have been able to pursue meaningful, rewarding tasks in a dynamic environment. Besides editing and drafting press releases, I also pitch stories to reporters, promote NG’s internal events and build media lists for outreach purposes.

Learning goes beyond National Geographic’s recognizable yellow border. Whether its attending a special event with a former Emerging Explorer and nominated CNN Hero, enrolling in free classes and becoming certified in specialized research, or sitting-in on meetings and networking with notable and influential professionals such as the Editor in Chief of National Geographic Magazine, I have been exposed to unique professional, educational and cultural learning experiences not otherwise available to me in the traditional academic setting.


Although the journey to earning the “Dean’s Intern” title was challenging and unpredictable, I ultimately treasure my experiences at National Geographic as they allowed me to establish a solid foundation in the communications field. The skills I’ve gained, the problems I’ve confronted, and the relationships I’ve formed at National Geographic will undoubtedly remain with me throughout my career.