My Summer at the International Rescue Committee

by Emily Rinck

This summer, the IA Institute presented a grant of $1500 to Emily Rinck of the University of Michigan School of Information to make it possible for her to accept an otherwise un-funded summer internship doing information architecture work on the Intranet design at the International Rescue Committee. We are proud of our role in helping Emily serve this esteemed organization which saves lives through its delivery of aid and relief to refugees around the world.

I am incredibly grateful to the Information Architecture Institute who awarded me a grant this past summer that helped make it possible to take an unpaid internship with a great organization, the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC is a humanitarian international non-governmental organization that works with refugees around the world. Working in over 40 countries, they have emergency response as well as rebuilding programs. They also have resettlement offices around the United States for refugees who choose to come to this country to start their new lives. I remember reading about the organization several years ago when I first began getting interested in these sorts of issues and the possibility of going that direction with my future career.

And so, several years and detours later, I ended up interning with the IT department at the IRC headquarters' office in New York City. I mostly worked remotely from Michigan, but with the help of the IAI and a friend's spare room I was able to spend a total of four weeks in New York City working on-site, which was a great experience. I was working with the content manager of the IRC's intranet, which connects their workers and volunteers, enabling information sharing and collaboration across the country and around the world. The Global Intranet intern position is a recurring one, and a portion of my time was spent helping with the day-to-day work on managing the intranet. Pages and sites had to be created and re-organized, content had to be edited and updated. During my first two weeks, I also attended many IT meetings so I could get an idea of their methodologies and how they worked.

While all that composed a regular part of my interning duties, my main job was to conduct user experience research on the intranet to assist with and direct the ongoing development of the system. I analyzed the results of an organization-wide survey that had been conducted before I began interning, as well as conducting usability testing and user interviews. I ended by writing a requirements document and trying my hand at creating a few wireframes and new designs for the intranet based on all the research I had done over the summer.

I learned a lot about what goes into trying to design a system to meet the diverse needs of such a large, varying group of people, both in terms of best practices and pitfalls. I saw what happens when you release technology into the wild (in this case, the workplace). There is a very human element to any sort of software or website design that can't be realized in the classroom because it has to do with the implementation. Implementation is a process. It doesn't just happen on its own, an effort must be made to really make it accepted and stick. This is a part of the project that involves many different groups in the organization, not just IT. Designing and implementing a successful information system really is a group project from start to finish (if there ever really is a finish).

It was wonderful to be part of an organization doing such great work, and having this experience has been invaluable to me. I learned a lot that will help me now and in the future, and am confident that I am on the right track toward a great and satisfying career.

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