Alexa Jeffress is a 5th year PhD candidate in the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese at the University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Alexa’s dissertation investigates the relationship between the historical events at the turn of the twentieth century (1888-1923), and their subsequent representation in Castilian and Catalan literature and film in the post-Franco era (1975-1990). Specifically, she analyzes the impact of drastic socioeconomic and political changes on the working class in Barcelona in both time periods.
Alexa was a PhD Plus intern at Gazelle International as a Virtual Learning Liaison in Fall of 2019, and Spring and Summer of 2020 under the mentorship of Nancy L. Ruther, EdD.
What are your post-PhD career aspirations?
I hope to work in a variety of roles within the higher education system. As a Spanish Ph.D. candidate, I am passionate about teaching undergraduates in the classroom, including digital classrooms. I would also love to work within a university’s Center for Teaching and Learning to help professors design courses that are more equitable, diverse, inclusive, student-centered, and pedagogically sound. Through my academic career, I aspire to work both as a professor of Spanish, and a faculty member in a teaching center.
How would you summarize your PhD Plus internship?
I applied for the PhD Plus Internship because I constantly seek ways to improve my pedagogical knowledge and skills. I was a PhD+ intern at an educational nonprofit called Gazelle International. The organization provides strategic advising and offers a virtual exchange program, CLICK (Collaborative Learning for International Capabilities and Knowledge) to educators. I was drawn to Gazelle’s internship because I value its mission to bring access to international education to a greater number of students. Given that Gazelle also works with Mexico and France, I thought it would be a great way to connect with teachers in other areas of the world and learn from their experiences. Finally, Gazelle works primarily with Community colleges, a sizable sector of higher education that I was entirely unfamiliar with. I realized that the Gazelle internship would afford the opportunity to learn more about foreign and domestic community college systems.
Throughout my internship with Gazelle, I worked on a number of projects. I am most proud of designing a facilitator's guide in collaboration with the founder and my mentor, Nancy Ruther, and a UVA postdoc alum, Hannah Sturtevant. Developed for the Connecticut College of Technology (CT COT), this guide was over 100 pages long and lead facilitators through the entire process of virtual exchange training for teachers who are new to CLICK. It was a rewarding project as it involved planning, facilitating and participating in the virtual exchange training sessions for teachers in Connecticut and France. Through that process, I was able to test and make changes to the guide as necessary.
One of the biggest highlights of this internship was getting to know teachers from other parts of the country who share my passion for providing students the best classroom experience possible. The internship experience reinforced that I really value the teaching aspect of my career. Over the past year, I was also able to travel to two conferences - Community Colleges for International Development (CCID) and International Virtual Exchange Conference (IVEC). This fall, I will attend IVEC again, however, this time I am leading a workshop on creating a virtual exchange syllabus using backward design.
What professional skills did you develop during your internship?
This internship provided opportunities to develop a number of skills. To highlight a few,
- Time management: I worked across time zones and coordinated schedules with teachers around the world.
- Project management: I participated in many simultaneous projects and learned to better manage multiple tasks.
- Collaboration: I collaborated with other interns and staff members on the Gazelle International team to collectively develop projects.
- Virtual work: As the internship involved working remotely since Fall 2019, I learned to manage projects and collaborate with teachers and co-workers virtually.
- Communication: I improved my ability to speak clearly, as I frequently worked with teachers whose native language was not English. I also wrote monthly blog posts for Gazelle’s website
- Marketing and design: I discovered Gazelle International’s strengths in comparison to competitors. We emphasized those strong points in workshops and conferences to develop more clients. I created marketing materials for our blog and conferences. I used Canva to create multiple marketing items for business, including a formal business brochure, new member packet, postcards, certificates.
- Managing Budget: As I assisted in proposals for prospective clients, I learned to write a proposal, as well as negotiate funding within the higher-Ed system.
- Leadership: I co-facilitated 15+ workshops on virtual exchange for teachers, administrators, deans, and other faculty.
- Data literacy: I co-wrote yearly and semester reports on the program metrics and used survey data to analyze strong and weak points in our training system. I assisted in developing rubrics to measure program outcomes.
- Proficiency with technology: I learned to use educational platforms such as Linkr Education, EdModo, Google Classroom, Blackboard, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Flipgrid. I also learned social media and professional tools including Hootsuite, blogs, web design, and Canva.
How did the internship support your career development?
This internship helped me develop skills and experiences for the job market, both within and outside of academia. I plan to work within the higher-Ed system, but now I feel confident that I can apply my skills to a job outside the college or university setting as well. It also opened my eyes to how community colleges operate and the many benefits of working within the community college system. Now, I will expand my job search to include community colleges. I feel more comfortable working with teachers, conducting workshops, writing reports and briefings, and analyzing program data. All these skills are also immensely helpful for careers within a Center for Teaching and Learning.
What advice would you give peers on utilizing PhD Plus internships for career development?
One of the reasons this experience was so rewarding is due to regular communication with my mentor at Gazelle International, Nancy Ruther. I volunteered to complete tasks that were perhaps beyond my area of expertise, but I knew I could learn the necessary skills if given the opportunity. On numerous occasions, I requested involvement in activities in order to learn from them. The team met weekly, and that was also very helpful to track progress and get feedback. I highly recommend trying to establish a relationship with your internship mentors early. Request feedback on your work and take on more responsibility if you can. Also, spend time early in the process to learn about the organization- its mission, values, structure, offerings, role within the field. That will further determine how you can use the opportunity to learn as much as possible!