Ella Joaquin is a podcast transcription intern on the Borne the Battle podcast team. Ella is currently a sophomore at Loyola University Chicago where she majors in economics and information systems and minors in math. She is interested in a career in the foreign service and opportunities in data analytics and consulting.
Ella has recently finished her finals at college and is excited to tell us more about her experience at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a podcast transcriptionist. Ella found this internship through the state department website, where she saw the Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) program and applied to the Digital Media Engagement (DME) team. Ella went to the DME website where she read blog posts that detailed the experiences of student interns and other content like Borne the Battle podcast and the DME Intern Podcast. Ella has learned more about Veterans and Veteran culture by listening to them tell their stories on the Borne the Battle episodes that she transcribes for the podcast team. She also enjoys doing captions for webinars outside her department, such as the one she did for Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) that works to prevent homelessness with Veterans and support their families.
For her internship work, Ella receives a rough transcript and has to make it legible and accessible for people that meets accessibility standards. Ella describes how her role as a transcriptionist affects other people, “I just like thinking about who this helps.” Along with Tanner, the host of Borne the Battle and head of the VA podcast team, Ella sees all aspects of the podcast come together in different ways; and as a team member, Ella notices how the graphics, blog posts, interviews, editing, and transcriptions of the podcast are delegated to many interns who have the responsibility to do a good job and should be encouraged by their work and the end results of the podcast.
In her free time, Ella loves baking pandesol and has recently planted Bonsai seeds with her friends on Zoom.
Use the audio player to listen to Ella’s full interview, or read the transcript below:
Ep 21: Grace Yang – DME Interns
Shannon Moran: The Department of Veterans Affairs does not endorse or officially sanction any entities that may be discussed in this podcast, nor any media products or services they may provide. Hello and welcome to the Department of Veterans Affairs Digital Media Engagement Interns Podcast. This podcast will focus on the experience and work of various interns on the Digital Media Engagement’s team who are working with us as part of the Virtual Student Federal Service internship within the department of Veteran’s Affairs. This podcast is two interns having a conversation about their experiences in order to highlight the work, as well as encourage application to this program and friendship amongst the interns. So please join us as we highlight and get to know some of the many interns that are part of our program. Thank you for listening!
SM: Hello and welcome back to the DME Interns Podcast. Today I have Ella, she is a student at Loyola University Chicago. She’s majoring in Economics and Information Systems, and minoring in Mathematics. She’s interested in a career in the foreign service, or opportunities working in data analytics and consulting. Fun fact – she loves baking. Her favorite thing to bake is, pandesan?
Ella Joaquin: Pandesan? Yeah!
SM: Pandesan, it’s a Filipino bread roll. So, I can’t wait to talk to Ella, how are you doing today?
EJ: I am doing pretty well, I just finished up with finals, so I’m super happy about that.
EJ: Thank you!
SM: I finish mine tomorrow, we’re very excited.
EJ: Oh, good luck!
SM: Thank you. The only thing between me and Christmas is a paper, a couple of papers. Here we are. So, what do you do for us at the VA?
EJ: At the VA, so I am a Podcast Transcription Intern, but for Borne the Battle, the other podcast.
SM: The other side of things, yes. You’re one of Tanner’s.
EJ: I am, yeah. And so it’s pretty cool, I listen to a lot of episodes of Borne the Battle and do other transcription work as well for other departments.
SM: That’s so fun! How did you find this internship?
EJ: So I was just on the state department website this summer, just looking at different careers and stuff, and then I saw VSFS, which is how you apply for this internship. I saw a whole slew of DME Internship postings. So I went to the DME Interns website, and I read some blog posts about student intern experiences here. It’s content just like this, like the podcast, but this is new right, the podcast?
SM: Yes, our podcast is new.
EJ: Yay! That’s awesome. So yeah, I read some of those blog posts, and I decided you know what, this looks like a pretty good opportunity and so I applied, got it, and I was really happy with it especially with this virtual semester that is happening.
SM: Yes! That’s awesome. What has been your favorite thing to work on so far for the VA?
EJ: So I definitely do like transcribing the Borne the Battle episodes, because I end up hearing a lot of stories, a lot of narratives that I’m really not exposed to normally. I actually don’t have any veterans in my life. So I learned a lot about veteran culture just by being in this environment and especially by listening to all those veteran stories. But I also like being able to do captions for certain webinars for other VA branches. I recently did one for Supportive Services for Veteran Families, which works with homeless veterans. I learned a whole lot about it, and it’s a branch of the VA that I didn’t even know existed. So I’m being exposed to all this stuff or information that I wouldn’t have sought out before.
SM: Yeah, totally, that’s awesome. That’s such a common thing that almost all of us here at the internship have had that experience of learning things that you didn’t know before. So, for those of us in the podcasting world, I am very familiar with what transcriptions do and the hard work you guys put in. But for people who are not so embedded in this, can you explain a little bit about what that work is and what it’s like?
EJ: Yeah, so normally for the podcast, I’ll get like a rough transcript that’s computer generated. It’s my job to make it legible and make it accessible for people. There are some accessibility standards that we have to comply with as a government agency, I think it’s called Section 508. So we’re making all government materials accessible for people, and it makes it so much more useful. I’m going through, and making sure that everything makes sense. People don’t really talk in grammatically correct ways, so adding periods where there need to be periods, things like that. I make it readable, and I like thinking about who this helps, people with hearing impairments for the podcast, or for the people who maybe English isn’t their first language, and they would prefer to have a transcript. It makes the value of the podcast so much more because it can get to more people.
SM: Exactly. There’s so much value in podcasting. But there’s the downside of, if it’s in a newspaper or an article, it is more accessible often, unless you’re vision impaired. So there’s flip sides to both pieces, it is a really great work we do to prioritize making sure that everybody has access to everything. So, we are halfway through the internship, roughly. What are you excited about going forward? What do you want to keep doing?
EJ: I think I want to keep making connections with other people. I listened to a couple other episodes of this podcast, something a lot of people touch on is this is a really friendly environment, and I totally agree. This is so energetic, people are willing to reach out. I’ve realized, especially since I didn’t go back to my college campus this year, I stayed at home, a lot of the new people I’m meeting are all from this internship. I’m really grateful for that because I feel connected to a lot of people despite living at home and not going to in-person classes and things like that. I want to keep doing that going forward, for sure.
SM: It’s so fun, and I’ve been lucky enough to pretty much become friends with almost everyone we’ve gotten to interview, it’s been so great.
EJ: Oh my goodness, I love that!
SM: It’s awesome, I have become friends with almost every single one of you, which is awesome, I love it so much. Some of you I’ve even stolen to work on my team which is great too. So, it’s really fun to meet this way and get to know each other virtually. What has been your favorite project, favorite episode, favorite thing that you’ve done so far for us?
EJ: I think, out of the podcast episodes there are two that come to mind. One is actually the first episode I ever transcribed, and it was Episode #208 with Florent Groberg, he’s a medal of honor recipient. Hearing his whole story, he actually immigrated from France when he was a kid, and moved to Illinois, and I was like oh my goodness, you’re from Illinois! So hearing that, and now he’s transitioned to a business career, it was really cool to hear how much of a journey his life has been and it also gave me a sense of veteran culture, and how it’s important. He was hired at LinkedIn specifically to help veterans transition into careers after serving in the military. It gave me a really good idea of that as well. Another episode I really liked, I think it was 212, I’m not really sure. It was about the Blue Water Navy Veterans Act, which was just passed last year, I think and is kicking in now. It gives navy veterans from the Vietnam War the same health coverage and benefits that other Vietnam veterans had for being exposed to Agent Orange. Previously, they did not have that coverage at all because people said they were in the water, and were therefore not exposed. But they were, and now we’re seeing the effects of that. So it’s cool to see how legislation is coming through and it’s changing. It shows that the VA is trying to improve always.
SM: So what has been the most surprising thing about veteran culture that you’ve learned so far in the past couple of months with us?
EJ: Something that I’ve noticed, that a lot of people who come on Borne the Battle say about being in the military is the term mission-oriented. They always talk about how that’s really helped them in their life because they are focused and always have a goal. They’re always thinking about what they’re really trying to accomplish, and how that’s helped them professionally. I think that’s something cool that everyone can kind of learn from. What are you here to do, and are you working towards that goal? It’s about being determined, and making a path forwards from that. It’s been cool to see how that’s applied to a lot of different people’s careers. I know one woman who talked about that was I think Dr. Ja’net Bishop. Now she works with veterans who are incarcerated and does resiliency training. There’s just a lot of different ways to connect, there’s always a greater goal to be working towards.
SM: That’s so cool, I love thinking about how that mission orientation plays out in our internship and how it’s been set up. Most of the people we work with are veterans, and so they’ve set up an internship that is incredibly mission-oriented.
EJ: Yes, it totally is. It’s amazing.
SM: I didn’t even connect those two things until you said that, but you’re totally right. What has been — I know we talked about getting to meet new people and stuff — but what has been the biggest thing that you’ve learned and that you’ve enjoyed doing with the internship?
EJ: I’ve definitely learned how to become a better communicator, if that makes sense. With this internship, people are on at all different times. People are on at like 1 AM, people are on at noon, so you really have to take the initiative and be like, I need help on this, I need to ask you this. Being that kind of advocate for yourself helps you get the mission done. That’s something that I didn’t really have to do before this internship, because when I think about the other things that I’ve done in my life, people have told me, “Oh, you know what you’re doing,” or “We’re all going to get on at this time,” and we’re all doing things together. Things can pop up, and you can just ask someone who’s next to you. But now, you really have to make it a point to track down the information yourself, get it done, because there’s no one watching you. You have to really be proud of the work you put forward.
SM: You’re totally right, and advocating for yourself is so important, especially in this internship. So you work with Tanner, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with, but not many people in the internship have. Can you talk about what you’ve learned from the podcast team and from Tanner that maybe other people don’t know about because they work with Dom more. But you work with Tanner more, he’s your point of contact, so tell me a little bit about what that’s like. For context, Tanner runs almost all of the VA podcasts with us. He’s the head of that, he hosts Borne the Battle, incredible guy, mentor, friend, person. What have you learned from him? He’s incredibly insightful, I swear every conversation I have with him I take away something.
EJ: What’s cool about being on a podcast team, and some of your interns might feel the same way, is you get to see all aspects of creation. Not just that, for instance, Tanner runs point on everything to do with Borne the Battle. But at the same time, I get to see him as a host. I also get to see him as a leader, the leader of our team. He puts so much into it, and he’s involved in every part of the podcast creation from checking over the blog posts, the graphics, the interview, and the editing, he’s also the host, he makes sure transcriptions are happening and they’re being put up in a timely manner. I think that I’ve learned that it’s important to have your eye on everything that’s going on if you are in charge of something, while also giving people freedom, and letting them delegate things, trusting that people are responsible, will take your critiques, and it helps us all be more accountable for our work. We’re so glad to see the end result of our podcasts. He’s been submitting some of our podcast episodes for awards. It’s been cool to see the result of all the work that we put in together as a team. There are so many different people working on this podcast, it’s crazy.
SM: I have been in the podcasting world for a couple of years now, and have built and developed a number of different podcasts, and got kind of thrown into it, along with the people that I was working with. Almost everybody I’ve worked with was thrown into it at the same time, so can you talk about your experience as far as working on a well established podcast? It might be different than my team, who’s building two from the ground up in a bit of a chaotic manner. Talk about that a little bit.
EJ: Well you and your team are doing a great job. I’ve loved the episodes that I’ve listened to, for sure. That’s why I was like, sure, I’ll be on this! As for Borne the Battle, what’s cool is since I’m a transcription intern, sometimes the podcast episode is already out there before the transcription happens. So sometimes I’ll pull it up on my phone on Apple podcasts, and I’ll see the reviews. I think that seeing the reviews is really cool because you’re seeing what people want more of, you’re seeing people say, “This was so helpful,” or “I really connected with this episode,” or “Something in this really resonated with me.” Maybe that’s something that hasn’t happened yet for your podcast since it is really new. But just seeing how what you put out there can connect with other people is really rewarding and can also be really informative to making a better product.
SM: I think that’s what I’m most excited for the Native American podcast, which is our longer term project, and how all of that plays out.
EJ: Oh my goodness, that sounds amazing!
SM: Yeah! We’re really excited about it. So, did you have experience in podcasting before this internship? Did you have a background in this at all?
EJ: I didn’t, however, I did listen to podcasts, and it was actually mostly to learn about other cultures. Just like Borne the Battle teaches me about veteran culture, and that’s similar to how I use podcasts as well. I remember when I first started learning French, I would listen to French podcasts, and French news podcasts. I would read the transcription along with it because it would help me to see news from a French perspective and I’m also learning French grammar. I also listened to some Filipino podcasts because that was important to me to connect with my culture. That’s probably why I was drawn to the podcast internship category. For the transcription, I’ve always been really passionate about accessibility.
SM: So, what have you learned from a podcast consumer, to now being on the creation side of things. I think a lot of people don’t know what goes into it. They see this part of it, they imagine there’s some editing, but you would have no idea the amount of hours it takes to produce something like this. Tell me about that.
EJ: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think Borne the Battle comes out with an episode every week or every two weeks, but those episodes are floating around in that Slack channel for weeks on end before it gets out there. Even from the concept, it’ll be like “this is who we’re interviewing,” and it will just linger until it’s ready, and the graphics are already in the blog post and the Instagram post. There is so much going into it. I’ve also seen Tanner, he’s the one who cuts down his interviews, sometimes it’ll take him days because there’s just hours of them talking. You have to have an actual concept for each episode, despite it being an interview based podcast. There’s going to be a lot that is said in that interview, and you’re going to have to narrow it down a little bit.
SM: What people don’t know is for every hour of content that you hear there might be five hours of content that was originally there but you got rid of. I mean it’s so crazy. Yeah, that’s awesome. It’s so fun, and it’s fun hearing and seeing the different pieces of it. On the flip side, I’ve been a part of podcast teams where we had to flip around an episode because we got behind in less than a week. You record it, you put it together, it’s a blessing when you’re a couple of episodes ahead, when you’re not, you’re basically on the wire to release something every week.
EJ: Oh my goodness.
SM: That stress of the week by week. So, what do you hope to take from this? What do you want to take from this experience into your future career or life post internship?
EJ: Something that I want to take from this is being mission-oriented, because this internship is all about meeting deadlines because there are people who rely on your work. I think I’ve learned a lot about teamwork from this internship, because even though we’re all working our own hours and our own assignments, pretty much every project in this internship you’re working with other people. There are other people who rely on you to do your part.
SM: They’re dependent on somebody else in some capacity.
EJ: Yeah, and so even if my future career isn’t as explicitly teamwork based, no matter what you’re doing, what work you’ve put forth affects other people and other people depend on it. So, I want to take from this internship being responsible for my own work, and doing the best that I can. Also, asking for help if you need it. It’s good to ask questions, because we’re all just learning, and we’re all just trying to make the internship a great experience.
SM: What I love the most about this internship so far is that almost everybody I’ve spoken to, we take great pride in the work that we’ve done for the VA.
EJ: That’s so true, yeah.
SM: You take pride in transcribing, I take pride in the podcast, I mean it comes down to taking pride in the veteran of the day that people have written, you take pride in the graphic you developed. Whatever it is, we do take an immense amount of pride in the work that we’ve done.
EJ: That is really important in order for you to not burn out, you have to realize that what you’re doing is important and you’re proud of it.
SM: Yeah! It’s so crazy, how often do you have 300-some interns that take pride in what they’re doing? It’s a really cool thing that happens that I don’t think most of us expected.
EJ: Yeah, you’re right. I did not expect that.
SM: Right? So, what do you want for life after the internship? What are you doing going forward? Remind me, what year in school are you?
EJ: I’m a sophomore.
SM: Okay, so yeah, what are the next two years, what does life after college look like for you?
EJ: I want to be able to take on more opportunities like this one. I’ve learned so much both from the work that I’ve done but also the people that I’ve worked with. I think that’s something that I want to emphasize about this internship, is you learn so much from the people that you work with, from the people that say good morning to you. We’re just such a supportive group, and we’re in all different fields, and that’s been something really cool, and really helpful for me, because I am someone who is pretty indecisive. I’m not exactly sure what I want to do going forward, but one of the things that I’m interested in is foreign service and there are people in this internship who are interested in that. Another thing is — Oh are you too?
EJ: Oh my goodness! You see that! You find people who are also interested in the things that you’re doing. I’m an Information Systems major, and my first interaction on this internship was with someone who was also an Info Systems major and he sent me over some great free resources for students. Things like that. Being able to take advantage of the opportunities in front of me so I can learn what I’m good at and where I can contribute the most with the skills that I’ve developed. I’m open to a lot of things, at the same time, I know that there is so much that I don’t know, and so I’m just hoping to develop more and see where I land.
SM: What is something that you didn’t expect that you would be good at or that you would enjoy doing before you joined the internship? Is there anything that you’ve discovered that you’re like, “Actually, I really love this.”
EJ: I think for me, it’s teamwork, group work. In school, I think that group work can be a little bit —
SM: No one likes it. Hahaha.
EJ: I don’t like it in school! Because everyone is really busy, everyone has different priorities, and it’s hard to be in a group where not everyone prioritizes that project the same amount. But with the internship, I think I’ve seen how group work can be really beneficial and efficient. Some things actually do work better with group work. That’s something that surprised me in a good way, for sure.
SM: Yeah, you really can’t develop a podcast by yourself.
EJ: Oh, absolutely not.
SM: I mean people try, but it’s so hard. Not at the quality that Borne the Battle is. I mean there’s just so much. What is your advice to a new intern?
EJ: To a new intern, I would say it’s okay if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, just say it. Make sure to post, and maybe in your team’s channel, or in general, but just say you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing. Say you don’t know when things are due or when your weekly report is due. Literally say it, because someone will answer, and I appreciate that so much. I have asked questions in #general, like “I don’t know how to Jibble in, can someone help me?” People will always help you. That’s something that I’ve learned from this internship and also just in general this year. People really do just want to help you. Take advantage of that because it’s a great community, and it’ll only make you do better work, it’ll make the whole internship do better work, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
SM: And don’t be afraid to give your feedback.
SM: They’re constantly asking for feedback, and polls, and for participation. I think the biggest thing, the overarching advice that almost every intern in some capacity is given is, be active in the chat. Ask questions, participate, give your feedback. Say good morning, whatever it is, be active in that. It’s so important in building these connections and these relationships. So finally, before we wrap up, this has been so much fun.
EJ: Yes, I’ve had so much fun too.
SM: Give me a fun fact about yourself. Tell me something fun about Ella.
EJ: Fun about me, okay, so recently, my school, I love them for doing this, they had this virtual event where you can sign up and they’d send you bonsai plant seeds. I got this kit, we all hopped on Zoom, and we planted them together. I think real bonsais aren’t from seeds, they come from an existing tree, but whatever, genetic modification, it’s cool. So, I planted these bonsai seeds, and they’re sprouting now, and in like a year or two it’ll actually look like a tree. I saw another picture when it’s 8 years old, and it’s a bigger tree! So I’m just excited that something I started right now will years down the road grow with me.
SM: That’s so fun, so, funny story as our final anecdote. My family has killed more bonsais than I can count.
SM: And they’re supposed to be impossible to kill them.
EJ: Is it really? Oh my goodness.
SM: Not impossible, but it’s supposed to be really hard to kill a bonsai tree.
EJ: I believe that, yeah.
SM: And my father has killed like, six.
EJ: Oh, that’s a lot!
SM: Oh yeah, no, it’s a lot. We keep buying new ones, and they keep dying. I think we have one that’s been around for a year, if not longer. So it’s been great, but this has been like a multiple year journey, like four or five years of us trying to keep a bonsai plant alive, and it doesn’t work.
EJ: Oh no, I hope mine make it. I hope they survive.
SM: I’m sure yours will make it, trust me. But bonsai plants are like, you either have the people who are like oh this is so easy, and other people are like, I can’t keep it alive. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Well, thank you so much Ella, this was so much fun.
EJ: Yes, thank you for having me!
SM: I know the listeners learned a lot and definitely gained some insight into the internship for this, so thank you, and we’ll talk soon! Thank you for tuning in to the DME Interns podcast. We hope you learned something about your fellow interns, more about our program, and that you come back and listen to us soon. Have a great rest of your day!