The Course of Reason

Reflecting on a CFI Outreach Internship: Vicki Smith

August 23, 2017

My last semester at Central Michigan University, I received an email about the summer internship opportunity with the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, NY. It would be lying to say I immediately wanted to apply—in fact, I originally was not going to, as I felt a biochemistry major had no business applying as a non-profit intern. I was also about to graduate and move to Wisconsin from Michigan over the summer; the timing did not seem ideal. As I prepared my secular on-campus group before graduating, making sure leaders were in place and ready to take over, I realized I was not ready to let go of what had become a huge part of my identity while at university. Sitting at the library, all my campus group files organized, I decided I had to at least apply. I would worry about the details later since at the end of the day, I knew this was something I was passionate about and would make happen.

Shortly after my graduation, I began packing my bags for Amherst. I was not sure what to expect but from email exchanges, I had a feeling that I was going to have a good time and at the very least learn more about CFI and the secular movement. Upon meeting everyone at CFI Headquarters, I instantly felt welcomed by the staff. I was very quickly included in conversations about various projects and even asked my thorough opinion about them, which is something I was not expecting. As a young university graduate with no formal experience, I was used to doing more of the listening than contributing; it was not uncommon in my experience to be dismissed due to my age and inexperience. However, I did not have this problem at CFI and even felt like my age and closeness to university culture was seen as a resource, insight that was valuable. I was relieved to know CFI cares about the upcoming generation and is willing to adapt to their concerns. As someone who is very open about their passions and opinions, I was grateful to be working somewhere where I did not feel like I had to bite my tongue or otherwise tiptoe around how I felt. 


Something that became apparent quickly was that I was very much uneducated on all the different movements CFI is actually a part of, how they came to be, and who was involved. For example, I had not thought of skepticism in particular as a movement due to my focus on atheism, and the way skepticism is approached at CFI was something I admired immediately. I realized my background in science had already taught me about critical thinking and skepticism in a way that could as easily be applied to any unfounded claim. I became more passionate about science education and skepticism over the summer, and how my biochemistry and research experience could be used to promote the values I care about.


CFI Selfie While I was here, I also had the opportunity to help with the CFI Branch Leader Conference where I was able to meet branch leaders from across the country. This is where I learned the bulk of my newly found event management skills, something I had not had a chance to hone during my time in college that I believe is incredibly valuable to any field where you wish to organize people. The conference opened my eyes to how diverse CFI really is and how certain geographical areas have different priorities and concerns depending on the particular area’s culture. I feel like I have a broader understanding not just of CFI, but of the wide array of concerns within the secular and atheist movement.


As I come around to my final week in Amherst, I am filled with so much appreciation for CFI and the people I have come to know here. On a personal level, I feel more confident in myself and my ability to contribute to the issues I am passionate about. The staff here have shown me that while I have a lot to learn, I also have perspectives and insight to offer as well. I am not sure what I am doing next; having recently graduated and moved to a new state, I feel I still need time to settle down. Whatever I do next though, I know I will continue to be involved with the secular movement in some way—even if it is just as a volunteer—and I hope to continue developing my skills as an organizer and contributor to the community.



About the Author: Vicki Smith

Vicki Smith's photo
Vicki is a graduate of Central Michigan University. She majored in biochemistry and minored in environmental geology, but found herself drawn to the secular movement through her on-campus group Dogma-Free Society: A Chapter of the Secular Student Alliance where she was president for three years. Her passions include eliminating negative stigma for atheists and other non-believers, keeping church and state separate, and increasing scientific literacy and evidence-based inquiry. She is a summer 2017 intern for the CFI Outreach Department!


#1 Andy Ngo on Thursday August 24, 2017 at 10:07am

We will miss you, Vicki. What a pleasure it has been to work alongside you this summer.




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