by Sergio Tovar
Building experience and a professional network through an internship can make or break students’ ability to land the job they want after graduation.
That’s why helping Master of Environmental Management and Master of Forestry students find summer opportunities after their first year at the Nicholas School of the Environment is a top priority for the Career & Professional Development Center.
Although internships are not required as part of the MEM/MF program, seeking one of these opportunities is almost an expectation.
“Most, if not all, students will participate because we see extremely high value in being able to do one of a number of things, including exploring a field or sector they’re not as familiar with to really understand if this is a good fit for their interests,” says Deb Wojcik, director of Career and Professional Programming and Counseling.
During MEM students’ first year, the center helps them with job description analysis to figure out what kind of jobs they want and what skills they should seek in and outside the classroom.
“They need to be empowered to network, to showcase their skills, to be able to really target where they want to use those skills in their first job,” says Karen Kirchof, who recently retired after 27 years as assistant dean for the Career & Professional Development Center. “That’s where we spend most of our time.”
The Career Center also sets up info sessions, provides one-on-one coaching to help students prepare for the application process and interviews while also maintaining an online listing of internships and jobs for student to apply.
The Career Center can help students be strategic, so they can find an opportunity that will not only be a top-notch experience but will help them reach their larger goals.
“An internship is an excellent way to fill those gaps and enhance the strengths you already have,” said Wojcik.
The center has a good track record of helping students secure internships. Wojcik says the percentage of second-year students who had an internship this summer was in the high 90s—a figure they see often.
Most environmental careers don’t have a formal recruiting cycle, so students have to take an initiative to land internships.
But the Nicholas School does have some established infrastructure to help students with internships.
The biggest is the Stanback Internship Program, a university-wide initiative open to returning students looking to work for environmental organizations for a summer. In its 22nd year, the program brought 52 organizations to campus this past spring offering 174 internship opportunities.
The program provides a wide variety of positions with nonprofits large and small for an 11-week learning experience. Students receive a $5,000 payment to help with their expenses.
“It’s been a great program for the Nicholas School,” says Kirchof, adding that 55 of the 114 Stanback interns this summer were MEM/MF students.
Among other competitive programs, the school has a partnership with EDF Climate Corps for energy efficiency internships, and a new donor-funded program that awards two students $7,000 for World Wildlife Fund internships.
Students also can apply for grants and endowments—both internal and external. This year, the Nicholas School awarded more than $161,000 to support summer internships. Most money for MEMs and MFs is for students going abroad, and a few are for community-based projects or for students seeking to work in Capitol Hill.
Sergio Tovar is the Nicholas School’s social media specialist
Lina Kahn MEM’18, Energy and Environment
Energy Efficiency Intern, North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA)
A Stanback program internship.
For the summer, I interned at the NCSEA. They are a nonprofit focusing on driving the clean energy policy and market to provide economic opportunities and affordable, clean energy within North Carolina. I focused on energy efficiency analysis of low-income communities—something I didn’t have formal experience with, so I felt it was a great opportunity to do it locally.
My first two days were like getting thrown into the pool: sink or swim. I came in and immediately was preparing a grant for about $130,000, which was a new experience for me. I also was able to participate in a NCSEA working group about electric vehicles. They had people from Duke Energy, representatives from the Governor’s Office, people from North Carolina environmental quality. They were all focusing on how to change the market, infrastructure and policy to improve electric vehicles within North Carolina.
The best part about interning? You really get hands-on experience and see how environmental change comes about. I like the fact that you’re exposed to new things, because how else are you going to grow?
And taking Dalia Patino-Echeverri’s modeling classes and using Excel to figure out how to do data analysis in a way that’s efficient definitely helped me out.
Samantha Godwin MEM’18, Coastal Environmental Management
Intern, N.C. Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve
I worked on the Rachel Carson Reserve site. My work primarily focused on a research project involving a long-term analysis of the effects of stabilizing structures, such as bulkheads, on salt marsh. I also participated in other ongoing projects, including ones dealing with marine debris and marsh monitoring. I was able to interact with incredibly knowledgeable people who have helped guide me. I really came to learn firsthand how science doesn’t go as planned most of the time. You run into road bumps and you learn from them and move on.
I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do an internship in the Beaufort area. So, in January I called the reserve site and talked with the research coordinator. He told me about the bulkhead project that he had been brainstorming, and I got really excited about it. We ended up creating an internship out of it, and I was fortunate enough to receive the Edna Bailey Sussman Grant to fund it.
I was hoping to get more applied GIS skills as well as some statistical skills. The GIS coursework that I’ve taken gave me most of the skills I needed to get through this project. I also was eager to learn more about the general management of nature reserves and different topics like marine debris—which I’m really passionate about—living shorelines, marsh restoration and things like that.
Adam Fischer MEM’18, Energy and Environment
Policy Intern, U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
This summer, I interned with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. At risk of sounding cliché, I must admit it was a dream internship for someone like me—an unabashed energy and environmental policy wonk with a passion for politics. When I began considering summer internship options, I set my sights on Capitol Hill, knowing that a congressional internship would offer a unique, firsthand look into the policymaking process. Without any direct connections to staffers on the relevant committees, I turned to a tried-and-true tactic: I sent cold emails. I tracked down the appropriate contact on the Energy Committee and, in a matter of weeks, I had an interview on the books.
My internship in the Senate exceeded my admittedly high expectations. When I look back on how my first year at the Nicholas School prepared me for the position, I would say all my experiences taken together helped me hit the ground running. The Nicholas School provides students with an interdisciplinary, flexible set of skills to tackle complex challenges, regardless of their size or shape. Policymaking and policy analysis similarly demand a broad mix of skills—from creative problem-solving to synthesizing data to communicating with diverse audiences. The Nicholas School helps students hone those exact capabilities.
My experiences this summer highlighted the importance of taking on challenges outside your comfort zone as well as the value of being conversant in a range of topics—not just your niche. Working with the committee provided indispensable insight into the dynamics that underlie energy and environmental policymaking.
Rajah Saparapa MEM’18, Environmental Economics and Policy
Intern, Togo’s Agence Nationale de Gestion de l’Environnement
I came to the Nicholas School knowing I wanted to study protected areas in Togo and the consequences on local population. In September of my first year, I already was talking to my advisor about the feasibility of such a project and how I could make it happen as a master’s project. I contacted the Environmental Management National Agency in Togo and shared with them that I wanted to do an internship on conservation in Fazao-Malfakassa National Park. After I submitted a proposal, they approved my three-month internship at the agency, where I conducted 150 household surveys and interviewed the national park managers.
I applied what I have learned at the Nicholas School in so many ways on the field. The social science survey class that I took with professor Randall Kramer was the backbone of my field work. I also found to be true what my teachers said: what you learn in class sometimes doesn’t translate literally on the field. I had to adapt.
Through the internship I not only learned about the environment but also the people. I learned you cannot do one without the other. To be able to encourage people to conserve, it is very important to make them at ease, in other words provide them with basic infrastructures such as a hospital, clean water, electricity and more. The issue of conservation in low-income countries has an interdisciplinary solution to it. My internship helped me reinforce one thing, my commitment to go back home to Togo and strive for the sustainable development of my people and the environment.
The first time that I heard about Counter Culture Coffee (CCC) was in Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza’s fall 2016 Community-Based Environmental Management class. Meredith Taylor, the CCC sustainability manager, gave an impressive presentation about the company’s commitment to achieving measurable environmental, social and fiscal sustainability in the specialty coffee industry. With a love for coffee and fascination of CCC’s business model, I was thrilled to find out that Dr. Shapiro-Garza and Meredith had developed a summer internship.
I then worked with Meredith to develop and test a 3-day climate change adaptation workshop that will be implemented at CCC’s partner coffee cooperatives. The project was the culmination of two-years work conducted by previous Nicholas School master’s students.
Skills I gained at the Nicholas School—and practiced in class and in professional settings —helped prepare me for the work. Two semesters worth of community-based environmental management theory and application helped me develop a participatory workshop that can be applied throughout all coffee cooperative levels. A course in social science surveys gave me the necessary expertise to design a comprehensive, but appropriate, evaluation tool for workshop participants. Without the academic foundation, I gained in areas like sustainable agriculture and climate change, the workshop would be less effective.
Through this internship, I gained an immense wealth of knowledge about participatory action research methodologies and learned that PAR frameworks have a meaningful place in business. I see myself applying what I’ve learned at CCC throughout my career to inspire businesses to invest in sustainability to make a difference from the ground level.
A recent Nicholas School alum and friend within the forestry program had done this internship last summer and convinced me that I would be a good candidate. In my application, I pitched a project that looked at finding revenue sources from stream and wetland restoration across properties the group owned. I got an invite for lunch and before I knew it had a start date for early May.
On any given day, I was dealing with topics surrounding forestry, wetland/stream ecology, geospatial analysis and finance. Some days I was up to my knees in mud, while others I was up to my nose in papers in an office cubicle. There was a wide range of diversity in my experience and I think that speaks more generally to today’s expectations surrounding environmental management. It’s not enough to be just a specialist. Looking back, I think this was one of the great strengths of Duke’s program. I was able to showcase many different skills and tools such as resource economics, forest measurements/silviculture and GIS that I learned as a graduate student.
I had a professor tell me once that forestry is about 10 percent dealing with trees and 90 percent dealing with people. This experience absolutely confirmed that. Even in a field dominated by science, we can’t escape the judgments, regulations and, ultimately, the values of people we work with. This was especially true working with other foresters, contractors and stakeholders in the field. The hardest part was not applying the knowledge and skills learned in graduate school but building the rapport and good working relationships with those around you to get the job done right.
I found my position through the Stanback Internship Program. I worked on environmental justice policy in North Carolina, spending time between the NCCN office, the legislature and the Department of Environmental Quality. My core coursework as an environmental economics and policy student included Environmental Law and Environmental Politics in my first year. So I was able to apply a lot of what I’ve learned when doing advocacy work at my internship.
In addition to what I was able to bring to my internship, I learned a lot. I became much more familiar with local processes when it comes to environmental permitting and regulatory actions. What I appreciated most in my internship was the ability to really own my summer projects so I could have deliverables to present to potential employers. I completed an environmental justice fact sheet for legislators and contributed to a fact sheet for a bill to make it more understandable for the public. My long-term project was an environmental justice policy toolkit for North Carolina advocates, which I had to present in a webinar. I think being confident in my knowledge of the ins and outs of public policy will be a major benefit of my internship and will help me in my career.