Often when people hear that I was involved with a conservation internship they assume that I was out in the field surveying stand density or collecting stream temperatures but that was not the case. This environmentalist worked behind a desk on my computer supporting incredibly intelligent and passionate people in order to advance a lofty conservation agenda. The theme of my summer was urban sustainability and resiliency with a focus on clean water and healthy rivers.
Time spent during my internship this summer was spent with the Washington chapter of The Nature Conservancy based in Seattle. Specifically, I worked on the Puget Sound team generally split between the Cities and the Water teams who respectively work to reduce polluted storm runoff in to the Sound and manage floodplains around the state. Among other things, I helped to organize a Floodplain by Design workshop which facilitated outreach, collective learning and problem solving with partners involved with floodplain restoration and management; I managed an Innovation Stories blog which is often utilized by politicians to advance conservation policy initiatives because the blog highlights many success stories of disparate partners around the Puget Sound and the importance of conservation work for both people and nature; I compiled information on contractors and consultants who are experienced with large-scale watershed projects which is used by the Water team to assist new partners as they begin the long process of integrated floodplain projects; and I produced extensive network maps for both the Cities and Water teams in order to help facilitate inclusive and strategic partnership growth. These projects were not the mundane support work that many internship programs offer as ‘experience’, but rather, they really added value to my professional development and, in turn, I worked hard to add value to TNC Washington’s mission.
There were many important lessons that I learned this summer but I was truly inspired by the shift in TNC’s metal framework of conservation. No longer is it a land trust sequence model of acquiring the land and roping it off for the sake of nature alone. This produces a checkerboard effect of “conserved” nature and urban areas filled with angry humans that have been pushed off land in their community. The Conservation 2.0 model brings people back into the equation and forces TNC to focus on the reconciliation of urban areas and natural spaces. Many of the current initiatives ask us to critically think about how we can utilize natural solutions to solve urban problem and improve the sustainability, resiliency, and overall health of our urban communities.
I was inspired by the projects I took part in, the people I worked with, and the organization I worked for. This summer really allowed me to see how my Whitman education can be applied and the tangible results that stem from putting in the hard work in the classroom. As I enter into my senior year I, more than ever, feel ready to face what will come after graduation. As Jodie Toft, senior marine ecologist for TNC, said in an informational interview, “you don’t have to find the absolute perfect place for you, just find somewhere where you can kick ass,” and I feel I have found a space where I can do just that.
Experiences like Jacob’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff.