Expect the Unexpected: How an Internship at a Blood Bank Helped a Journalism Major


By Melvin “Chase” Smith, BA in Journalism & Mass Communication, GWU, 2017

This past summer I had the great pleasure of being the first intern in the bone marrow donor department at the Blood Assurance Headquarters, in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee.

When I was in high school I established a chapter of DoSomething.org at my school. One of our service projects was called “Give a Spit about Cancer,” which aimed at signing people up for the Be The Match National Bone Marrow Registry by doing a simple cheek swab. To organize the marrow drive I worked with Blood Assurance because they were the closest Be The Match representatives to my high school.

I used my connection from working with Blood Assurance in the past to return to doing work with Blood Assurance and Be The Match this summer, in order to supplement my other internship at a local newspaper. While the newspaper internship directly tied into my journalism major, I was happily surprised by all of the transferable skills I learned at Blood Assurance this summer.

Throughout the course of my internship, I learned that giving back to the community in which I live is of the utmost importance. Blood Assurance gave back to the community in so many ways this summer—most notably in the days following the Chattanooga shootings in July 2015.

Blood Assurance is the sole provider of blood products for the hospital that the shooting victims were taken to that somber day in July. Due to the increased demand by the hospital following the shootings, demand for blood products went up from nearly six times the amount of donations that are needed on a typical day. On a daily basis Blood Assurance distributes around 130 units of blood products, but that number rose to 680 units for Chattanooga’s Erlanger Health System as a direct result of the shooting.

Over the next few days I saw my colleagues come together, and the city of Chattanooga come together as well, to help each other in a time of great need.

I saw hard-work, passion, and selflessness from every one of my colleagues. Journalism is a tough industry to make it in and this event gave me even more motivation to further my career aspirations as a journalist. Why? Because in my opinion, journalism is what I do best and is the best medium for me to give back to society—just as my colleagues at Blood Assurance are doing daily in the medical field. They acted quickly that day to save lives—just as a journalist must always be on their feet and expect the unexpected.

To do my part after the shootings, I hosted a blood and marrow drive in my hometown north of Chattanooga a few weeks following the shooting and gained hands-on experience in recruiting and informing the public on issues related to marrow donation specifically.

The drive was important because Blood Assurance had been absent in my hometown for a while due to low turnout—but this particular drive turned out to be one of the most successful drives in several years.

I learned leadership skills that are invaluable in journalism, as well as public relations skills that will help me out in the future.

Lastly, I had a great experience networking with colleagues, which is already helping me today. Because of connections I made in the marrow department at Blood Assurance, I have been able to establish a chapter of Be The Match on Campus to GW to continue the work I did this summer and in high school for Be The Match.

I would encourage everyone to do an internship outside of their major or career path because, as the motto for one of my favorite TV shows Big Brother says, you should always expect the unexpected. That unexpected experience could help you more than you know!

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