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PR Student’s Congressional Internship Inspires Him to Work in Public Service

When Derrick Banks started working as an intern for Rep. Steven Cohen of District 9 in Tennessee this past summer, he thought he wanted to become a lobbyist. He walked out of that internship with a completely different outlook and goal for his future.

“It was very eye-opening seeing the different issues that people in the city of Memphis have to deal with—things that a lot of people don’t even realize they have to deal with,” Banks, a Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations senior, said. “I wanted to be a lobbyist, but then I had this internship and it made me want to go into city planning or economic development to be able to give back and help those who had different opportunities than I had.”

Tombras School Assistant Professor of Practice Joe Stabb said that’s exactly the point of internships. Getting hands-on experience in a role allows students to see the actual workings of a job and then decide if that’s what they actually want to do after they graduate. 

“You need to go do an internship to see if you like agency life, or nonprofit life, or government life,” Stabb said. “We are always thinking about how to get students exposed. We need to understand the skills they want to develop and what industries they are interested in.”

Banks leaned into some of the skills he’s acquired during his time at the College of Communication and Information, particularly what he’s learned about communicating with different people in order to meet their needs. In his role, he answered phone calls to the local congressional office in Memphis and assisted a variety of people to navigate tasks such as finding housing with a Section 8 voucher, helping veterans find resources, or assisting senior citizens with various technical issues.

“Knowing your audience, that was a big thing. Some people call in and you just have to know how to speak to them,” he said.

Banks said he’d initially wanted to go to the Washington, D.C. office, but once he started looking into it and discussing it with Stabb, they decided he’d get a better idea of what kind of issues Memphis residents face if he worked at the local office. It’s a decision he’s happy he made as it likely changed the entire trajectory of his future. 

“I’d encourage anyone to do it, even if you don’t think you want a political future, it’s a great experience to see what’s going on in your district. Networking is a big thing as well in it, it’s very eye-opening. I talked with a few people in the DC office and they felt the same way. Issues are different everywhere in the state and it’s how you come together to help out everyone, no matter what, that matters,” he said. 

While he’s looking forward to graduating, Banks said it will be delayed by a few months as he is soon reporting to a deployment as a specialist in the Tennessee Army National Guard soon. But once he does have his degree in hand, he’s ready to get on the ground and directly help people who really need it.

“I changed my major to public relations without even knowing what it was, but it’s been a perfect fit. It’s one of those things where you could go make a lot of money, but at the end of the day, you’re doing something for the good of the public. You’re there for the regular citizens to give them all the information that they need,” he said.