by: Rachel Wong
As part of the inaugural cohort of the MacNest program, I am one of thirteen Macalester students working at startups across the Twin Cities for a ten-week stint during the summer. I was originally attracted to MacNest because of its entrepreneurial aspect. Being a liberal arts college, Macalester does not offer academic courses on business; therefore, MacNest seemed like a great opportunity to take the soft skills that I learned at Mac and transfer them to a business setting. From the list of startups participating in MacNest, HabitAware stood out to me because of Aneela’s personal connection to the cause. HabitAware is Aneela’s trichotillomania story and her journey to create an awareness bracelet. Being on a team where everyone is deeply connected to the mission of the company is very motivating. We are doing work with a purpose. Every small task contributes to the overall success of HabitAware and moves all of us forward.
In my 10 weeks at HabitAware, I have a newfound understanding, perspective and respect for “startups.” Establishing a new business takes grit and commitment. It’s clear the HabitAware team believes so much in their mission and dream that they are willing to dedicate their life, their time, their energy. They are in business to truly
spread awareness about bodily-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) and the importance of mental health. I admire the people who make this their everyday life because, as a risk adverse person, I don’t think it could ever be me in the future. Not that I’m completely crossing off entrepreneurship off my list – I can totally envision myself working at a startup in the future if the opportunity arises!
Since I’m the only intern to a four-person core team, I wear many different hats. I began the first week of my internship with website design. Later, my responsibilities encompassed data mining, drafting emails for potential partnerships, and merging Excel sheets. (At one point, I got super excited about discovering new Excel equations to use.)
But, one of my main ongoing responsibilities is SHIPPING! I have now mastered the entire shipping process for the Keen bracelet, from unpacking the shipment from the supplier to packaging individual Keen bracelets for customers. About three weeks ago, I was tasked with training a new member of the HabitAware team with the shipping process. As the summer intern and the youngest member of the team, I will be honest and say that it was a strange experience as the person with knowledge. Since it was my first time training someone, I wasn’t really sure how to begin but gave it my best shot anyway. In the end, I reached two conclusions/reflections. One, when I am in a place of authority or the person with knowledge, I should be confident in what I know and speak in a direct and articulate manner. Assertiveness remains one of the traits that I am trying to constantly improve. Two, everyone struggles with the tape dispenser, which made me feel better about my taping skills. In honor of conquering the industrial-sized packing tape dispenser, I decided to write a haiku:
Ugh. Tape dispenser.
Doesn’t come out smooth or straight.
Aside from that, I also help with social media accounts and several projects regarding business development.
9 am: Arrive at work, drink my , and ready to work!
9:30am: the number of Keen bracelet orders and prep shipping materials.
9:45am: Make shipping boxes and fold thank you cards. I try really hard to smooth out the tape.
9:45am – 11:30am: Go through each order and package each box nicely with . They stack up quickly in the USPS containers!
11:30 – 12:30pm: Unpack new inventory while listening to . Lots of orders mean unpacking new shipment to get them ready for .
12:30pm: Lunch break! Time to heat up food that I made the night before and chat with the rest of the HA team.
1:15pm: Check and tag new customer service tickets.
1:45pm: Write a draft for a new HabitAware blog article (like this one!).
4pm: Update any changes on the HabitAware website.
4:30pm: Wrap up tasks and get ready to finish work for the day!
One important aspect of the MacNest program is community building. All thirteen of us share a living space at the Summit House on campus, and are required to attend weekly meetings with alumni speakers and staff from the Career Development Center. The intentional living arrangements sparked conversations about each other’s internships organically, and I was able to learn about startups that are in other fields.
One of our MacNest meetings revolved around the importance of networking. As a student, networking is an activity that I feel is somewhat easy to define broadly (you expand your connections) but difficult to explain in detail (WHY do we need to expand our network?). A guest speaker, a 2015 Macalester alum, described networking as a way to form relationships via genuine curiosity. People are naturally curious about others, so networking should stem from curiosity about others’ work. This changed the mindset that I held previously about networking. I associated networking with an image of stoic, uptight professionalism, when I should look beyond my misconception and actually see the other side of the networking. I am talking to real people with real jobs and real interests. Hence, I think I need to rid myself of the scary, intimidating nature of networking, and realize that I’m speaking to another human being with a career, genuine interests, and a willingness to carry a conversation with me.
Interestingly enough, I did not realize the large presence of startups in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area until this summer. In fact, I just learned that Minneapolis has one of the most thriving startup scenes in the Midwest, second only to Chicago.
After watching DocuMNtary, I was amazed to learn of the resources and networks that startups have here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. In mid-July, a friend and I attended Minnedemo, an event sponsored by minne* that allows Minnesotan startups to give seven-minute pitches to the tech community. Sameer from the HabitAware team had the opportunity to give his heartfelt pitch last summer! The Minnedemo 26 pitches I saw by Pivot Interactives and CheckNGN wowed me. Both are ideas that I can easily see implemented into people’s everyday lives, creating positive value, just as the HabitAware team strives to do.
The emotional and stressful roller coaster ride of sophomore year in college has made me more self-aware of my thoughts, attitude, and emotions. I became more introspective, more aware of my relationship building skills with my friends and roommate, my attitude in the midst of stressful situations, and, most of all, the little voice that lives inside my head.
Imposter Syndrome: (n.) “concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’”
My summer at HabitAware became the perfect opportunity for me to develop professionally. One of my biggest weaknesses is my assertiveness. In an academic and professional setting, I am easily intimidated by others’ presence because I believe that others are more knowledgeable and have more valuable opinions than mine. Despite my tendency, HabitAware’s laid-back startup atmosphere made it easier for me to improve on my assertiveness and gave me the chance to speak out in a comfortable environment. Being the only female on the four-person core team, Aneela has been a great mentor for the past five weeks (and still is) and gave me great tips on being more confident in myself and my abilities. Something as little as posting in the group chat instead of direct message can help establish my presence and voice in a group. Ultimately, I learned that building relationships with colleagues makes speaking up easier and taking small steps to assert my presence will help improve my confidence.
The end of my summer internship is a bittersweet one. As I’m reflecting on the past few weeks, I can’t help but think that every little thing signifies change. HabitAware is gearing up for the next its next big thing by expanding into office space, increasing its customer base, and adding more members to its team. After I leave, HabitAware will continue to grow and develop to become the next greatest invention besides sliced bread (I’m biased).
Spending more than 200 hours together with people who I have just met this
summer has given me the chance to develop meaningful relationships with the rest of the HabitAware team. At this point, I’ve met the families of the HabitAware team and finally feel well integrated with the company, only to realize it’s over and time for my next chapter!
I’m no stranger to change; I attended seven different schools during my K through 12 career and immigrated halfway across the world. Nonetheless, I’m always slightly emotional when one door closes and another opens. Emails and phone numbers are exchanged. Conversations about future plans are made and words like “let’s keep in touch” are said. I always try my hardest and go out of my way to maintain relationships, but I also know that life can be complicated and people drift apart naturally. And in the infamous words of Dr. Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
With two more years of college ahead of me, I’m still pretty indecisive about my future plans (I’ve also heard people say that I don’t need to figure out my life at 21 though, so I should be fine). None of the HabitAware team works in the field they studied and/or they switched careers few years out. Aneela was in accounting and then switched to design and marketing. Sameer was in finance and now leads day-to-day business ops for HabitAware. Kirk studied English and still writes, but just in code. “Doctor John” has a PhD electrical engineering, but is now HabitAware’s marketing analytics optimizer extraordinaire. With that knowledge, I know I will be able to transfer my interpersonal skills and proactivity to any field that I enter. So although my career path is not set in stone, I will strive to be a curious learner and convey confidence in my future endeavors.
In the meantime, I will be packing up and flying halfway around the world to Seoul, South Korea, where I will study abroad for the upcoming fall semester. With less than a month to go, I’m beginning my preparations for being in a foreign country for three and a half months, physically and mentally.
After these ten weeks, I will move on and continue with my life like everyone else, and when nostalgia strikes, I’ll look back at this summer with happy memories.
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