Environmental Studies majors take part in a unique 3-quarter Capstone experience combining professional development, a built-in internship (locally or abroad) and a public presentation tying in their academic research with their practical on-the-job work. Students gain valuable hands-on experience exploring potential career paths and they build communications, research and analytic skills that serve them well beyond their time at college.
Read more about what the student experience is within our Capstone, in this fifth post in our Student Capstone Q&A Series.
Capstone Internship focus: Community and environmental stewardship
Capstone organization: Young Women Empowered (Y-WE) Nature Connections
UW faculty mentor: Jessica Hernandez
Why did you choose this internship?
I chose to intern with Young Women Empowered because this organization, more than any other I’ve seen, champions environmental and social justice, community organizing, and education in a way that centers and uplifts the voices of young people. In addition to my first impressions of Y-WE during ENVIR 490, a national staff member in my organization, United Students Against Sweatshops, shared with me their positive impression and respect for Y-WE. Another reason I decided to choose this internship was because of the dynamic I had with my future site supervisor, Anna McCracken, at the Capstone Meet and Greet! Knowing that capstone students spend a lot of time with their site supervisors during ENVIR 491, it was important to me to find someone I knew I would have a good relationship with.
What environmental challenges are you addressing? Why is it important?
My capstone project centers around environmental injustice in King and Pierce counties and the inability of affected groups to combat injustice collectively. Marginalized communities in our region are disproportionately subject to air, soil, and water pollution and have limited access to transit and public green space, among other environment-related issues. Often, different cultural and/or ethnic-based communities face similar environmental issues, but lack the institutional power, come up against differences of culture or language, and face systemic barriers to improving their conditions. As part of my capstone research, I wanted to get closer to understanding how we can overcome these challenges to build power in communities, foster deep understanding and solidarity, and work to collectively steward our land and the abundant gifts it offers us.
What are the goals of this internship and what are your expected deliverables?
The goal of my internship was to make a positive contribution to the communities that I identify with. To help Y-WE Nature Connections further their goal of fostering a connection between youth and their environment, especially among queer people and POC who often face greater barriers to it, I helped my site supervisor plan Y-WE’s first backpacking trip. Another one of my deliverables (aside from those delivered to my capstone and faculty advisers) was a report on the backpacking trip. The 17-page report I prepared documented details of the trip, consolidated the feedback we received from youth and mentors, and assessed the successes and opportunities for improvement.
What does a day in the life of your internship look like?
My day to day activities at Y-WE included creating emergency contact spreadsheets, writing environmental curriculum for youth ages 12 to 19, packing up our meals for the trip (including packing Sriracha into travel squeeze bottles), making a powerpoint for our backpacking prep night, picking up gear from the Washington Trails Association, and much more. Once we got to Olympic National Park, I was responsible for leading our 12-person group alongside another adult, checking in with our youth to ensure they had enough to eat, keeping us engaged with curriculum and activities, and making sure we set up camp before nightfall.
What skills have you learned throughout this internship?
Some of the most important skills I learned or enhanced at my internship were time management, the logistics of organizing an outdoor event like our backpacking trip, and some of the operations for running a growing non-profit organization. My site supervisor, Anna, was really great about bringing me to meetings concerning Y-WE and their grant funding. I had the chance to learn about the grant process and how complicated it can be to juggle all the requirements of various grants. Another important skill I learned throughout the internship was the ability to work with young people in a way that empowers them, affirms their knowledge and experiences, and breaks down the hierarchical youth-adult dynamic that is common in many organizations for young people.
What’s been the most memorable moment of this internship so far?
Our 4-day backpacking trip to the Ozette Triangle in Olympic National Park was definitely the most memorable part of my internship. We saw black bears and eagles, got to hang out at the amazing beaches there, had the honor of speaking with a member of the Makah and visited the Makah Cultural and Research Center, had fun meals like campfire cinnamon rolls, and met many intertidal critters. The best part, however, was getting to know the people in the Y-WE community. The youth and mentors that make up Nature Connections are wonderful people and made me feel so included, despite being the new intern.
What are your career aspirations once you graduate?
After graduation this quarter, my hope is to pursue a career that combines my passions for environmental justice, social justice and labor, and community organizing. This internship helped me realize that I enjoy educational work, and would love to integrate it into my work. My hope is to work for an organization like Got Green, who provide environmental education (especially around environmental justice issues), develop community leadership, and engage in direct action to make tangible changes in their focus areas of climate justice, youth leadership, and food access. I would also love the chance to work for a labor organization to address the often unrecognized environmental harm and injustice that happens in the workplace and as a result of the cycle of poverty.