Blog: Students reflect on an earth-lovin' summer
For some Northwestern students, summer is a time of relaxing on the beach and taking a break from the stress of classes and extra curricular activities. For others, it's a pressure-filled time as an intern trying to impress people who can make or break a possible career. For these three wildcats, the summer of 2015 was spent applying and improving skills while helping out the Earth. From sustainable restaurants to environmental reporting to animal counters, check out how these students spent their summer:
Fun with food
by Gabrielle Petrelli
I’ve never been one to have a single, defining passion in life, and sometimes that’s made it difficult to decide how I want to spend my summers. I’ve spent many coaching tennis and working retail jobs, but those don’t quite align with my long-term goal of making real changes in the way people think about and relate to the environment. That’s why, this summer, I was thrilled to have found an internship that allowed me to foster such changes while getting to research, talk, and write about one of the most prevalent aspects of human life—eating food.
This summer I had the privilege of working with the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition (GCRC). GCRC is a small nonprofit dedicated to protecting the environment and conserving natural resources by helping Chicago’s foodservice industry reduce its collective environmental footprint. As an environmental/project intern, I worked on an energy audit of McCormick Place’s three commercial kitchens and helped create materials for the Green Sports Alliance Summit, however, the bulk of my work was put towards researching and producing content for GCRC’s Sustainable Food Guide. Expected to be released in 2016, the Sustainable Food Guide will include information for both consumers and restaurant owners in Chicago to help them make better, more sustainable choices when it comes to purchasing meat, fish, produce and other foodstuffs.
Some of the most valuable experiences I had this summer included the opportunity to speak with actual restaurant owners in Chicago, asking them what influenced them to make more sustainable choices and what held them back. It became clear to me that many restaurant owners and chefs do want to try to make more sustainable choices, but that cost and accessibility were major barriers for even the most successful and well-established restaurants.
Most of my research, however, focused on making sustainable choices easier for the consumer, especially for those who are limited by both cash and time. I created infographics on how to eat less meat without feeling like you are truly giving anything up; about how rabbit meat is the most sustainable meat out there; about choosing seasonal produce; and am currently working on a quick guide to meat and produce labels. I truly learned a lot about food in the Midwest and Chicago this summer, and cannot wait to use this knowledge as I continue classes and my involvements throughout this school year.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned this summer, however, is that a few people can truly make a difference. This summer, GCRC was comprised of only 5 associates and about 5 interns, and yet we accomplished so much. Working with such a dedicated group of people was an extremely rejuvenating experience after three years of environmental classes that often made the power of a few look weak. I encourage anyone who loves food and the environment to check out GCRC, see what we’re up to, and visit some of our many sustainable and delicious restaurant partners throughout the Chicago area.
Writing for a greener planet
by Jamie Leventhal
I knew coming out of my freshman year that I wanted to have some fun summer experiences that would be resume-worthy and related to the environment. As an aspiring environmental reporter, I needed to find an internship that had a background in environmental topics and was looking for some help with communications and marketing. I ended up working in Philadelphia with the GREEN Program, a short-term study abroad program that brought college and graduate students from around the world to study sustainability practices. They were looking to get more traffic on their website to eventually attract more applicants, so I was in charge of writing interesting and
relevant environmental articles and helping out with some marketing research. I had an amazing time writing about LEGO’s new plan for sustainable building bricks and the large increase of Portuguese Man O’War jellyfish along the Jersey shore. Additionally, I was put in charge of covering the 2015 Progress Report on Sustainability in Philadelphia, where I met and interviewed Philadelphia’s Director of Sustainability, Katherine Gajewski. The department of sustainability in Philadelphia is new agency – created by Mayor Michael Nutter in 2007 – and has since set forth Greenworks, a series of plans to make the city more eco-friendly. Philadelphia aims to decrease energy usage and carbon emissions, and Gajewski discussed how Greenworks has made substantial improvements to the city’s public transportation system. Thanks to these programs, public transportation passenger numbers are now at a 25-year high. Getting to interview such an important figure of sustainability was thrilling, and it made me feel like one person could really make a big impact! This was an absolutely wonderful experience, and I learned a lot about writing and reporting in addition to data research.
I came into Medill thinking that I would take the broadcast track, but I quickly figured out that I was more interested in writing and multimedia. I saw pictures on Facebook of other Medilldos enjoying their summer internships at television studios, but I realized that I might have to take a different path if I wanted to be an environmental journalist. Through this internship, I learned that I would rather be able to take environmental stories that interest me rather than be an on-air reporter.
A wet 'n wild Summer
by Lan Nguyen
“Most of the guests who come to the aquarium are not here to learn about animals.”
This was was what I was told on my first day as an education intern at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. This summer, I was faced with the responsibility of instilling a sense of wonder and appreciation for marine life and ecosystems to a group of people who had the mindset of being in an amusement park. Families, groups of friends, and school trips visited the aquarium to have a fun-filled day, and my job was to educate them about marine biology and conservation without getting in the way of their fun.
My responsibilities included educating guests through informal conversations, leading lessons and activities for
youth day camps, giving formal presentations, and more. The internship challenged me on a multitude of levels; I had to overcome my nerves about public speaking, become more comfortable communicating in languages that were not my strongest (Spanish and Vietnamese) and learn how to appreciate phenomena that previously made me squeamish (did you know sea anemones’ anus and mouth are the same hole?!?!).
Another challenging aspect of my internship was that I had to consider the ethical dilemma of keeping animals in captivity. It was hard to not feel sad watching ocean animals live in a man-made exhibit rather than in their natural habitat. Although none of these animals were captured from the ocean to be on display (they were either born in captivity or rescued and deemed unreleasable), something felt wrong about people paying to watch these animals live their lives in a tank. The best way I could justify it was remembering that the aquarium only kept animals that they felt they had adequate space for, and kept animal welfare as their top priority, making sure to keep them mentally and physically stimulated.
I originally had a lot of back-and-forth in my head about whether working at the aquarium aligned with my values. But my interactions with guests quickly put my worries at ease. I loved telling children about an animal and then watching them turn to their parents to say it was their new favorite animal. It made me feel important when I told adults about the risks that the animals and ecosystems they watched were facing due to climate change and human actions. The animals at the aquarium may never get to see the ocean, but by being accessible to the public, they’re helping me do my job of promoting conservation and encouraging guests to take action to protect the natural environments of these animals. (Plus, the animals have it pretty good: they get to eat restaurant quality seafood, access to veterinary care, and live life without the fear of predation.)
As cliché as it sounds, I fell in love with the Aquarium of the Pacific this summer. It was partly due to the cool animals I got to hang out with and my hip co-workers, but the biggest factor was that I felt like I made a difference. I saw first-hand the power that education has to compel people to protect the environment. I may not be well-versed in chemistry or environmental engineering, but it’s good to know that I can use my ability to connect with people as a means to inspire others to love the earth and all its inhabitants.
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