My name is Chantalle Vincent and I am a senior Environmental Studies- Biology major at Whitman! It has always been my dream to use what I have learned in my four years at college to help the environment and I have especially been drawn to non-profits, which do so much amazing work to protect the planet while often maintaining a very deep connection to the local community.
For my senior year, I was ready to put those dreams to the test and experience what life is actually like working at a local, environment non-profit. Fortunately, I was able to find a position with Kooskooskie Commons, which restores riparian ecosystems on numerous rivers and creeks throughout and around Walla Walla.
Though my official position focuses on water quality testing, I have been lucky enough to experience so many different aspects of what it truly means to work for a non-profit. My time has been divided between three main experiences: collecting and analyzing data, updating and editing the official project plan, and networking and seeking donations to support Kooskooskie Commons’ current and future projects.
Though much of what Kooskooskie Commons does as an organization is restore the ecosystems around rivers, it is vital to explore the effects of these projects on the water, especially as a fish habitat. Many rivers around Walla Walla had temperatures and fecal coliform levels that were too high to be safe habitats for the fish that used to frequent them. A huge part of my job is collecting data from data loggers from over a dozen sites up- and downriver of restoration projects. We can use this data to understand the effects of the restoration and hopefully to see improvement in the water quality over time.
In order to ensure this field work can actually happen, there are many behind the scenes tasks that I have gotten the opportunity to work on. The one I have had the biggest hand in has been updating the Quality Assurance Project Plan, or QAPP, which must be submitted to the Washington Department of Ecology annually. The document keeps track of the changes being made within the project and must be approved for work to be done. For the past month, I have been working to update this document to reflect changing project goals, as we are hoping to add dataloggers to new sites in the spring.
Recently, I was also given a chance to peek behind the curtain at what it really means to successfully run a small non-profit. It can’t all be field work and data. To run a non-profit rooted in the community, you need the support of the community and a solid amount of financial backing. To that end, I joined my supervisor at the Alternative Gifts Fair, an annual event where dozens of non-profits come together to share their missions and ask for donations. It was an amazing opportunity to see the many different players actively trying to improve Walla Walla and the planet. It also provided me a view into how much people really do care about protecting water and enacting projects that would improve bodies like Mill Creek for wildlife and the enjoyment of Walla Walla residents. While we were of course sharing the broad mission of Kooskooskie Commons, we also had the platform to share and discuss hypothetical plans for Mill Creek created by landscape architecture students from WSU. The plans for different areas of the river, including the one of downtown Walla Walla that is pictured on this blog, all show the myriad possibilities of what this town can look like, and how much we can improve by embracing sound environmental policies.
My internship has been so exciting for me this semester and I am ecstatic about continuing it in the spring! For the first time in my life I have been able to see an incredibly accurate picture of the career I have wanted for a long time, and it has only made me want to work harder to reach it.
Experiences like Chantalle’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 Mitzy Rodriguez