DDI Intern Feature: Megan Villanova

Megan is a MSW student at UConn’s School of Social Work 

What was the inspiration or motivation for pursuing the internship with Democracy and Dialogues Initiative?

When I first was introduced to community dialogues, I had never heard of anything like them but was drawn to the idea of communities coming together to discuss issues of social justice.  As a first year student in the Master of Social Work program, My studies focus mainly on social issues and I am so lucky to intern with a group connected deeply to my education and future career.

Tell us a bit about your activities this semester as a DDI Intern. 

This semester, I was involved in the development of dialogues and dialogic programs.  I have been assisting my co-intern, Samara Johnson, on her dialogic program, “Democracy and Dialogue Film Series,” which screens documentaries on various social issues followed by a dialogue.  I am also working with the group Collaborative Conversations, where the aim is to have dialogues in high school classrooms.  I have consistently facilitated dialogues on various topics and attended many dialogic trainings offered, which has given me the skills I need to help create the Collaborative Conversations model.  

As you reflect on your experience as an DDI Fellow this year, what were some of the most significant takeaways? 

Looking back, one of the most significant takeaways is the power of dialogue.  Having a structured conversation around an important topic is a great way to get a range of opinions and perspectives from people you might not normally speak to.  I find that in my daily life I would avoid these hard conversations but using the ideas from DDI I believe I can stay civil in a tough situation.

How do you see dialogue as intersecting with your academic and professional goals?

The skill of facilitation is one of the biggest takeaways I see myself applying to my academic and professional life in the future.  Before learning how to facilitate I did not realize how easily I would be able to apply it to school and work, but it comes in handy during meetings or classes when the conversation goes off course and is a sought after trait for employers.  Facilitating in general is useful in any factor of my life, as I am usually a reactive person who has to say what I am thinking.  Through learning these skills, I have been able to use the power of reflection to step back and think before reacting.

Is there anything you might wish to say to someone who has never participated in a dialogue? 

I think that it is hard to explain the impact of a dialogue until you participate in one, but to be able to speak across differences within a group is a powerful thing.  It is also uplifting to be in a space where there are like minded people brainstorming ideas about an issue and being able to consult a professional with your questions afterward.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I really enjoyed my time at DDI and plan on attending dialogues in the future. I appreciate all of the help from the amazing team including Brendan Kane, Erica MacDonald, Samara Johnson and Aylin Saydam for being great people and making this internship fun and fulfilling!