ERI Summer Internship Program Student Reflections

View the latest ERI internship student reflections below!  You can also view past student reflections on our blog. Learn more about the ERI Summer Internship Program


Summer 2021 

Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Center for Coastal Resources Management - Schyler Vander Schaaf

This summer I am interning at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Center for Coastal Resources Management. It has been an honor to help VIMS work on building coastal resilience in Virginia, and I am grateful to have an internship that allows me to have a direct positive impact on the lives of other people and do work that I find meaningful, especially in the face of climate change. The key project I am working on this summer is increasing the resilience of septic systems on the Northern Neck vulnerable to flooding from sea level rise. Although working with septic systems may not sound like the most interesting project, it’s just these kind of seemingly mundane infrastructure items that will be most negatively impacted by climate change, and thus will have the most negative impacts on peoples’ lives; septic system failure has profound negative impacts on human and environmental health, so by helping to address this apparently uninteresting issue I am contributing to building resilient communities in a big way. What I especially appreciate about this project is the focus on economic justice and racial equity in assessing the vulnerability of septic systems, with priority being given to marginalized or underprivileged communities.
The majority of my work has consisted of researching different types of septic systems to determine which kinds will best suit the social, economic, and environmental needs of the Northern Neck, with a focus on community cluster septic systems. I read case studies, analyze community master plans to ensure that whatever septic system we choose is in line with broader community and development goals, meet with planning experts on the Northern Neck, and reach out to septic companies to better understand what kind of systems would be best. A large part of my work also focuses on analyzing GIS data to locate septic systems that are failing or at-risk; I use sea level rise data developed by VIMS to see which septic drainfields will need to be moved because of sea level rise, as well as soil data, floodplain data, and social vulnerability data to map out which areas have the best conditions for septic drainfields, and which areas are most in need of relocating their drainfields.
One of my biggest takeaways from this internship, and one of the skills I have most needed to practice over the past weeks, is the importance of being self-directed and self-motivated, especially when working virtually. Unlike most of my academic experience, I am not given explicit assignments with deadlines through this internship, instead I have to work creatively to come up with my own assignments and steps to complete long-term projects. There is no one looking over my shoulder to make sure I am doing the work correctly, instead I need to use my own judgement when completing tasks and make my own decisions about next steps to take. While this was stressful at first, I appreciate the freedom I have been given in this internship to work independently, and I think it has allowed me to greatly improve my ability to organize and complete long term projects on my own. That being said, cooperation and feedback are equally important in the work I do. While it has been a challenge to achieve these because of the virtual setting, regular zoom meetings with my supervisor and other team members help me stay motivated and give me a sense of direction; they also help me build contacts and gain expertise in fields related to coastal resiliency. I look forward to the next few weeks of my internship, and am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to work on such an impactful project so far.


Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy 

Today marks the last day of my 10-week internship at the State Energy Program (SEP) within the Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs (WIP) Office inside the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Since my mid-semester blog, my internship has only gotten busier and more exciting. First, we officially launched the Technology Action Group (TAG) pilot model on July 21 at our virtual TAG Kick-Off event. With over fifty participants representing thirteen states and (kind of) minimal technical difficulties, the kick-off was a success. Since then, we’ve been using feedback from the states and lessons learned to revise the TAG structure and timeline. I helped write and create a questionnaire sent to participants to drive upcoming discussions and help National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) cater to state technical assistance needs. I have also been busy with multiple independent research projects. I analyzed the level of cross-over coordination between the energy sector and natural hazard mitigation within State Energy Plans, Energy Assurance Plans, and Hazard Mitigation Plans to identify future pathways for collaboration between EERE and hazard mitigation offices. I also worked on two projects related to the Biden Administration’s planning priorities. The first project was compiling a database of current state, territory, and city decarbonization policies. This spreadsheet helps see which states are leading decarbonization efforts and compares state policies to key climate goals like the Biden Administration Climate Plan targets and the Paris Agreement. My second project was Tracking the NGO Response to the Biden Administration Infrastructure Plan to see how the NGOs listed plan to implement the Biden Infrastructure planning priorities, focusing on the energy sector, clean transportation, clean power, and clean water infrastructure. After working on these projects for ten weeks, I have learned many lessons and gained new perspectives. I’ve learned about the technical side of energy policy, which was an area that I had never experienced before. Through the TAG and my research, I learned about resiliency, what it means, why it’s important, and how to make a community more resilient through energy storage, renewable energy, DERs, and microgrids. Before my internship, I barely knew what the term resiliency meant. I used to think of resiliency as a next step or an afterthought to energy and technology deployment. But I’ve learned that resiliency should be incorporated and baked into the design process. My greatest takeaway is how much cross-office and inter-agency collaboration there is between SEP, WIP, and other offices and agencies. I’ve gotten to meet and work with so many different offices, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), DOE Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER), and national laboratories like NREL. At the same time, there’s been abundant interaction between SEP and local governments and states, which I didn’t think I would get this summer. I’ve always thought that one of the cons of working for the federal government is how far removed from localities it is, but that hasn’t been the case this summer. I have treasured interactions with local governments, specifically through the TAG Kick-Off event and interacting with the state participants. I will keep in mind the balance between federal offices and closeness to states I have experienced at SEP as I finish my education and enter my professional career.


Environmental Defense Fund

As I come to the last day of my internship, I am both sad and happy - sad to be leaving such a great institution, and extremely happy to have spent my summer there. I have loved working at the Environmental Defense Fund. The work environment was friendly and welcoming, and I had opportunities I never would have had otherwise. I have a concrete work product in the form of a 30+ page report on my research and a blog post that will be published on EDF’s website in the coming month. I feel lucky to have this experience. This summer, my research focused on fishermen and the Blue Economy. The Blue Economy refers to the sustainable use of ocean resources by the industries that work in and around the oceans. The main purpose of my research has been figuring out how we can integrate fishermen into the Blue Economy through the use of technology. To do so, I have looked into industries that are a part of the Blue Economy: aquaculture, mineral resources, tourism, renewable energy, shipping, and marine biotechnology. These industries have huge potential for fishermen to play a role by filling in data gaps. I have figured out what information each of these industries need in order to succeed, and then determined how fishers could plausibly fulfill those needs through different methods of data collection. I have also spent time figuring out how infrastructure could support fishers collecting data. At the moment, there is little incentive for them to do so - there is too much uncertainty around who will pay fishers for the data. For this to work, there needs to be organizations in the middle of this demand chain that are willing to pay fishermen for data they have collected. This could come in the form of a data repository and collective, which buys information from fishers and then sells it to multiple industries. The goal of this work is to set up the team I have been working on with ideas to take forward after my internship is complete.

During this internship, I have had conversations with specialists in varying fields, reached out to professors at multiple universities, and made contacts with different companies in the Blue Economy. I have developed close relationships with fellow interns and my supervisor at EDF, and learned about my preferences in an office environment. This internship has really allowed me
to be independent and figure out my research style by myself. I have been given unique opportunities, and I am extremely grateful for that.


Chesapeake Bay Foundation Intern - Eleanor Lawrence 

This Summer I had the incredible opportunity to work with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Maryland as their coastal resiliency intern. It was an amazing experience and a good hands on learning opportunity. I got the chance to work with many experts in the field of study that I am interested in and saw the diverse set of projects that are being taken on by the foundation. My main focus for the summer was on oyster restoration. I saw the process from beginning to end; preparing donated oyster shell to be set with nursery spat (oyster larvae), preparing shell bags to be distributed to our oyster gardeners, preparing reef balls, and using GIS to accurately map the distribution of oysters on protected reefs. I learned a lot of technical skills in addition to being a part of a crew both on land and in water.

Given the broad scope of coastal resiliency I also had the opportunity to work on many other projects. I learned first-hand about soil health and how agriculture can have a huge impact on the Chesapeake Bay by working on CBF’s farm for a day. I learned about acquiring public records and data by compiling all the information available on cover crops on farms in Maryland and I wrote several comment letters on behalf of the foundation opposing dredging projects within tributaries of the bay. This kind of first-hand experience helped me see the complexity of environmental issues and the kinds of pushback you can get when proposing environmental regulation. There are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account and by working with local communities I got a more realistic view of environmental issues and their solutions.

This internship was a great way for me to explore the kinds of jobs that are available within the environmental science field. I formed meaningful connections with staff at the organization and was able to do some valuable networking outside of the foundation as well. Interning for CBF has helped me think about my future plans and grad school in a meaningful way. I found it extremely helpful talking to people who have the kinds of careers I would like to have and getting their advice on grad school and what helped them get the kinds of jobs that they wanted after college. This internship helped to shape my world view, provided me the opportunity to do field work and gain valuable skills, and learn about environmental science first hand outside of a classroom setting. I’m incredibly grateful for ERI making this opportunity possible and I’m more excited than ever to continue to do work in the field of environmental science!


Science and Education Intern with OCEARCH 

Thus far, working as a Science and Education intern with OCEARCH has given me the opportunity to utilize many of the skills, I have learned through both my classes and extracurriculars at UVA. On any given day, I am working directly with the Chief Scientist, Science program coordinator, and the development director. OCEARCH is a collaborative non-profit that works with many scientists from different institutions to conduct research on White Sharks. The goals OCEARCH are to promote conservation of White Shark populations and educate the public on the importance of these apex predators. My roles vary daily, but all pertain to either the science or education sides of OCEARCH.
While working with the science team I have worked on projects including creating a new, condensed database that contains all the metadata for the sharks tagged by OCEARCH and their collaborators, update and add sharks to the shark tracker, and I am currently working on a data mining project with goal of determining how well the SPOT tags work that are used to track the sharks. When I am working on the education side of OCEARCH, I am working with volunteers to create a STEM camp for K-12 students in New Bedford, organize outreach for education programs, and help with logistics for the upcoming expedition.
In the last weeks of the internship OCEARCH will be conducting an expedition in New England to tag White Sharks. I will be participating in the three-day outreach portion of the expedition based in New Bedford, as well as helping with a virtual STEM camp aboard the research vessel. I will then be staying aboard the vessel in the Isle of Shoals and helping while we tag sharks.


Science Communications Intern with NatureServe

Through the combined partnership between the UVA Career Center and the Environmental Resilience Institute, I’ve been allowed to intern at the non-profit organization NatureServe as a science communications intern in the Marketing and Communications department.

Clear, concise, and understandable communication is essential includes writing easy-to-understand and following things such as the survey forms, podcast scripts, and social media captions. Simple but effective communication also applies to having an easy-to-navigate and informational website. This summer, NatureServe went under a complete brand makeover with a new logo design and website. I went through the unreleased website to correct grammatical errors, report missing links, and make aesthetic edits. It surprised me how much detailed work is put into creating a user-friendly website. Through this remote experience, I’ve strengthened my communication and interpersonal skills, such as writing concise instructions and explanations that use both words and images to maintain a connection with co-workers working in different parts of the hemisphere.

Even though I’ve been here for a short time, I have learned a lot about endangered species and the critical work that the marketing department does to communicate and disperse important information everywhere and to everyone, not just to the scientific community. I also learned how to use popular graphic design and computer software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to create informative graphics of endangered and threatened animal species called Critter Cards, different infographics, and edits to state maps of biodiversity importance.

Working with NatureServe gave me a vital insight into how my hometown area in North West Georgia has one of the most significant amounts of biodiversity (plant and animals species) at risk in the nation. Industrialization and corporations are some of the key culprits in the current climate change and global warming crisis. North West Georgia is home to many industrial plants specializing in the carpet business. Learning and practicing writing, analytical skills, and communicating to broad audiences is vital in shifting and completely change how current systems are operating. By practicing these skills through this internship, I can be a part of that change.


Environmental Defense Fund

As a psychology and government major, I was concerned about the prospect of taking an internship in a field that is outside of my comfort zone. However, my internship with the Environmental Defense Fund has been amazing. I work under Christopher Cusack as the Blue Economy Research intern. My project for this summer focuses on the integration of fishermen into the Blue Economy, which is the sustainable use of ocean resources by the network of industries that work around and within the ocean. EDF plans to bring fishers into the Blue Economy through data collection - if we can find simple methods for data collection, such as sensors that can be attached to fishing nets, then fishers can sell this data to other Blue Economy industries. This would help to bring fishers into this community of sustainability. I have been doing research on industries within the Blue Economy, and I am currently working on a report that I will present to my team at the end of the summer.
The work environment at EDF has been extremely open and welcoming. I have never felt that because I am an intern, my ideas matter less - rather, it seems like all of the people I’m working with are eager to hear what I have to say! Some of my coworkers are 40 years my senior, and yet, I feel as if I am an equal, which I am extremely grateful for. Furthermore, they are all very open to introducing me to new people and helping me to form new connections. My supervisor checks in frequently to ensure that I am getting the most out of my experience with EDF, and my intern ambassador has introduced me to people in positions I have expressed interest in, creating opportunities for me where they otherwise would not have existed. Unfortunately, due to the nature of this internship being remote, I am unable to make connections with the other EDF interns in the way that I wish I could. However, EDF has made an effort to still incorporate fun events into our work schedule. Things such as intern lunches, pizza parties, and escape rooms have all helped to bring the intern team together despite the fact that we live across the United States. EDF has made it abundantly clear that their interns matter to them.


Member Engagement Intern at The Climate Registry - Jaylah Webb

For the 2021 Summer, the Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI) has assisted me in gaining some valuable experience and skills that will be useful in my future endeavors while pursuing a professional career in sustainability. Currently, I am working with The Climate Registry (TCR), located in Los Angeles, California, as a Member Engagement Intern. Although we were forced to work together virtually due to the looming COVID-19 pandemic, I don’t feel that my experience has been lacking. I am learning a significant amount of beneficial skills and hands-on experience that can not be taught in the classroom. TCR’s team is unmatched, and it has been such a great opportunity for me to learn from each member. Despite the TCR team only consisting of twelve members, each member is tasked with a different aspect of the larger corporation’s goals, and together, they pack a mighty punch. They all have diverse educational backgrounds that have led them to where they are today, which I have found very interesting to compare in order to figure out my own future plans. The Climate Registry is a non-profit organization that empowers North American organizations to act on climate change by providing services and tools that help them reduce their emissions. TCR also drives climate action and ambition on the road to net zero by recognizing and showcasing sub-national leadership, and building strategic partnerships with and between national and international entities. TCR is governed by an independent Board of Directors and advised by a Council of Jurisdictions, which includes representatives from U.S. states and Canadian provinces and territories.
As a Member Engagement Intern, I support the Registry Services team by helping them engage with small business participants throughout the recruitment, reporting, and recognition process of the Small Business Program. Through their Small Business program, TCR assists small business owners in bringing their sustainability values to fruition through carbon emission reporting and reduction strategies. In this way, TCR gives small business owners the ability to make an impact, and stay competitive as the world begins the swift transition towards a more environmentally conscious way of living. In the contemporary moment, consumers tend to gravitate towards businesses that support the issues they care about in their personal life. It is no longer acceptable for a corporation to release a product without analyzing its environmental and social impact, if they want to remain lucrative long term. In order to properly address the climate change crisis, we must all do our part to reduce our carbon footprint, and TCR helps businesses do just that with their Small Business Program!
My responsibilities mostly consist of assisting in the improvement and remodeling of the Small Business Program. We are working to make the entire reporting process more seamless, rewarding, and user friendly for the average environmentally conscious small business owner. In order to achieve this goal, I have curated a slide deck presentation and one pager aimed at educating and recruiting small business owners to our program whilst incorporating professional, yet eye-catching modern design. Beyond that, I am tasked with outreach to small businesses we think could greatly benefit from the adoption of our program. Each day, I make several phone calls pitching our program to small businesses, and advocating for them to adopt. As a small business owner myself, my advisor looks to me to ensure that the program remains enticing to fellow small business owners. In order to do this effectively, I have learned to take note of future trends and analyze how TCR could transform them into an opportunity to be a leader in the green transition.
Currently, I am a little over halfway through my internship with TCR, and I am excited to see the opportunities that TCR creates for small businesses to stay relevant and competitive during this swift transition towards a green future.


 

More to Explore Columns: 
Advising Promo - Personalized Guidance
Career Community - Science & Sustainability
Resource - PathwayU

More to Explore

Schedule an appointment through Handshake, or by calling the UVA Career Center at 434-924-8900 M-F from 8 am-5 pm.

Virtual Drop-In Hours: Thursdays, 12-2pm 

One-on-One Counseling: Select "Science & Sustainability" from the Handshake appointment...

PathwayU is a platform with assessments to help you identify education and career pathways that fit you and make the most sense for your unique interests and values.