Unconventional and Invaluable: My Time as the NCTE Communications Intern

NCTE Internship-SMerlenbach-040721

When I applied for the NCTE Communications Internship through Sigma Tau Delta back in June 2020, I half-expected that I would be removed from the running before even getting an interview. After all, I am not a communications major, which seemed to be who the internship was looking for based on its description. Thus, when the July 31 deadline rolled around and no one had contacted me, I had already desensitized myself to the rejection. One can imagine my shock when a week later I received an email while at work inviting me to interview for the position. Receiving the internship was slightly less astounding, but only because I had already worn out my brain’s capacity for emotional whiplash.

Still, like every other part of 2020, my internship with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) shaped itself into a much different experience than I initially anticipated. In so many ways, however, I believe those unexpected pieces are precisely what made interning with NCTE so impactful. When I submitted my application to Sigma Tau Delta, I assumed that my role would involve designing some social media content, maybe proofreading some copy—typical “communications” tasks, but overall fairly isolated work. Instead, in our time of social distancing and isolation, my internship with the NCTE centered around, ironically, one of the most intimate and collaborative acts of communication: conversation.

Some of this may stem from my interning during a time of new staffing within the organization. When I interviewed for the second time, my ultimate supervisor, NCTE marketing director Chris Mitchell, was just finishing his second week working for the organization. Soon after I was offered the internship, the communications manager left her position to pursue other opportunities. Because of this, Chris and I learned together as we navigated both a virtual internship and a virtual convention.

Trevor Noah session screenshot

Throughout my time with NCTE, one of the greatest gifts Chris gave me as a supervisor was the autonomy to guide my own internship experience. In our conversations, he listened to the interests and goals I voiced and created opportunities for me to pursue them, even if it required reaching outside of his own department to people like Kurt Austin, who oversees NCTE’s publishing department. Through these opportunities for conversation, my internship became one of asking questions, seeking knowledge, and listening, rather than simply completing tasks. I can safely say I learned far more from these unscripted dialogues with NCTE staff members than I ever would have just writing content. The sheer expertise and wisdom that constantly surrounded me at NCTE is unmatched, and the same holds true of the NCTE Annual Convention. Even though I am not planning to teach English, I still changed so much as a writer and a reader through participating in these conversations on topics like the science of reading and the role of young adult literature in the classroom. Because of the NCTE Communications Internship, I was able to listen to voices I may never otherwise have heard, from high school students to Trevor Noah and US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. Hearing such a wealth of diverse perspectives helped me to realize how limited my own view of the world of English has been, and I am truly grateful for that.

Overall, I think the best word I can use to describe my internship experience with NCTE is serendipity. Though I had no idea at the time, I believe that Sigma Tau Delta’s email about this opportunity came precisely when I needed it most. The conversations and experiences that I had at NCTE gave me much-needed clarity in my life, from helping me streamline my coming job search to better understanding my mission as a person and a writer. Besides this, even though I was only the intern, the NCTE staff members I met welcomed me with open arms. They showed me the power of an organization filled with people completely devoted to helping change lives for the better, and I only hope that I can use the wisdom they imparted to me to do the same. I will truly miss my time with NCTE, but I hope that future Sigma Tau Delta members will share in similarly positive experiences.

SMerlenbachSarah Merlenbach
2020 NCTE Communications Internship Recipient
Pi Alpha Chapter, Vice President
Drury University, Springfield, MO


NCTE Communications Internship

Sigma Tau Delta encourages undergraduate student members with a focus on communications and/or journalism to apply for the NCTE Communications Internship, which will support communications initiatives of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

The internship opportunity will be held over six weeks (15 hours per week) during summer 2021. The intern will work on various communications projects, including helping with social media content, supporting NCTE Twitter Chats, creating emails to promote live events, drafting press releases, and developing copy for In addition to these projects, the intern will also spend some of their time with key NCTE staff from Marketing, Membership, Publications, Events, and other departments to learn about day-to-day NCTE operations. The NCTE is a fully remote organization, so the intern must have access to a computer, video camera, and reliable internet access.

Stipends from Sigma Tau Delta and NCTE

  • Sigma Tau Delta will award the NCTE intern a $300 stipend.
  • NCTE will provide the intern with a $1,000 stipend.

The intern will also receive a one-year complimentary NCTE membership after successful completion of the program, as well as a certificate of participation.

Application Deadline and Notification

Applications will be accepted through Monday, April 26, 2021, 11:59 p.m. Central Daylight Time (CDT). Questions regarding the online submission process should be addressed to [email protected].

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