2011 PFIG Recipient Sheffield Hale
College of Arts & Sciences
Environmental Thought & Practice and Environmental Science Major
2012 Graduation Year
Internship: American Association for the Advancement of Science
Notes on the first week
This summer I am interning for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in their Washington, D.C. Headquarters. They are the largest general scientific non-profit and publish the journal Science. I’m working in the International Office in the Center for Science, Technology and Sustainability. Currently, the only active project is an ongoing website that serves as the hub for a small, but evolving field of Sustainability Science. The site,www.sustainabilityscience.org, is my main project for the summer. The woman who ran the site before me left nearly a year ago, and major updates are needed. Many of the links are broken and the information old, not to mention the layout of the site.
So what will I be doing? First, I’ll be researching the site in order to get a better understanding of its past and its purpose for the future. Then I’ll make updates and add new items before helping to craft a new vision for the site. I will work in the DC office then in Charlottesville with professor Bob Swap. Bob was recently appointed as the interim Managing Editor for the site and also happens to be my advisor. I will bring back all that I’ve learned and done in DC and work with him in Charlottesville to continue improving this resource.
Not only will I learn quite a bit about Sustainability Science and sustainability in higher education, I will also be able to meet different people involved in sustainability around Washington, DC. This will be invaluable for not only gathering information for the site, but also for figuring out how I want to apply what I’ve learned at UVA to my career. I hope to leave having a much better understanding of the discussion regarding sustainability in higher education, but also in the non-profit world as well. While I want to work for a for-profit institution after graduation, long-term I’m hoping to be involved in both academia as well as non-profits at some point. That will make this experience very useful for deciding where to best place my efforts within the broad field of ‘sustainability’.
This first week has been a whirlwind, and not just because of moving back to dorms again. I was introduced to the site formally by my boss, Chief International Officer Vaughan Turekian, while holding onto a long list of objectives from professor Swap. The site, I found out, has roughly 2000 resources on it, almost all of which I will be updating. But before I began the updating process, I spent most of my first week figuring out what the site was all about and outlining a plan for how to go from there. I started reading the “Key Documents” in order to get familiar with the concept of Sustainability Science. I also researched the history of the website, the people who are most involved, and the history of sustainability within AAAS itself. I took pages of notes on all of these so that I could brief Swap when he returned from his study abroad trip in South Africa at the end of June.
The best part about the week has been sifting through these very interesting ideas about the concepts of sustainability science and sustainable development. Most of the resources and ideas featured on the site came from the early 2000’s, which means I’ll hopefully get to talk with many of those thought leaders about their latest ideas for sustainability. They were quite stimulating and it was extremely useful piecing together different viewpoints. For most this might not sound terribly exciting, but for me it’s going to be an ideal summer.
I have finished almost all of the editing for the old parts of the website and am focusing my attention on the second part of my job description: keeping the site current and relevant with new information. Not only have I learned a lot about what has gone in with regard to the field of “Sustainability Science,” but also I will now be exposed to new events and opportunities that may help me find exactly what I want to do with my degree from UVA. One opportunity that I’ve already started discussing is trying to attend the third “Earth Summit” or UN conference on Sustainable Development. It will be held a couple of weeks after I graduate in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, and if I could go with a non-profit it could be an incredible experience to meet people from all around the world actively engaged in sustainability. While much work remains to be done to make that a reality, it wouldn’t have come up had I not been adding that major event to the site.
Beyond finding and adding important new events and other resources, I will be helping to develop a vision for a broad overhaul of the site and how it’s laid out. This is why I will be returning to Charlottesville soon in order to meet with Professor Swap, brief him on the background of the site, and explain to him the updates that have been made so we can systematically work to lay out a vision for revamping the online forum for sustainability science. The execution of this plan will be ongoing, although not as intensive as my first part of the summer has been. We will likely work through the fall with AAAS to develop and enact this plan.
My time thus far in DC has been crucial to really understanding what has gone on with the site by talking to people and digging through all of the archived files from newsletters to website statistics to meeting minutes. I have begun putting together the newsletter to announce the re-launching of the site to all of the members who have been involved in adding to the site and key players in the development of sustainability science. Overall, this has been a worthwhile experience that has definitely met my high expectations and I look forward to continuing to improve the site from Charlottesville.
Looking back on my internship, both in DC and in Charlottesville, I realize that one of the biggest take-aways for me was observing the intersection of four distinct entities that operate in the environmental realm. The spheres I worked most directly with were related but separate non-profit and academic spheres, which came together to create sustainabilityscience.org so that academics could share ideas regarding the field of sustainability science. But of course, you can’t be in Washington and not learn about the importance of policy implications on the sustainability movement. Whether it was talking to people who worked for government consulting firms or hearing senior people at the EPA give talks on new regulations, this summer really helped me to bring into focus the myriad of entities that drive sustainability.
The sphere that I found most intriguing to me actually happened to be the most distant in DC: the for-profit company. Without understanding better the intersection of the non-profit and government spheres, it would be difficult to narrow in on companies as a vehicle for change. I spoke with an entrepreneur yesterday who said that, “the sustainability movement has yet to fully embrace the for-profit side” and I think he’s right. I got a chance to speak with the president of the World Wildlife Fund, who explained to me the evolution of the organization as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. He explained how they evolved from protecting species directly, to working to protect areas the species lived in, to working with governments to protect those ecosystems, to working with businesses’ supply chains to ensure that they aren’t harming the species’ habitat. One of the most effective non-profits, the Environmental Defense Fund, has set up an office in Bentonville, Arkansas to help Wal-Mart with their inspiring sustainability initiatives while running a competitive program that places more than 50 MBA students in major companies around the country to help with energy efficiency.
The experience with AAAS was more than positive and although SustainabilityScience.org has an uncertain future, hopefully my work on it this summer will facilitate a smoother transition to its final home. My final home will be at the intersection of the merging spheres that I mentioned earlier. What I learned this summer is that in order to navigate them I will now turn my attention to the companies on the cutting edge of sustainability to find my next step. Thank you to the Parents’ Fund and the UVA Career Center for making this incredibly valuable experience possible.