"The internship... changed my perspective on what effective climate action looks like and how many solutions are subject to greenwashing." -Erica Walters, Butler University student
I had been seeking internships for several months and was frustrated with program cancellations due to COVID. I applied to Carbon Neutral Indiana's program because I was eager to gain first-hand experience working for an environmental organization.
As for hesitations, unpaid internships are difficult because of the need to balance financial and time constraints. I was also unsure about working for an organization that was so new, as I know that startups deal with unique struggles to stay afloat financially. When I was accepted I was thrilled.
What I loved most about this internship was working with other college students and the collaborative and supportive environment that I felt was present in our group meetings. I found that working with others who cared about the same things as I do was extremely motivating.
I've learned a lot about the importance of pushing through barriers and dealing with the lack of instant gratification.
Because of this program, I've gained momentum among students at Butler and feel much more empowered personally to make change in the spheres that I can. I recruited many petition signatures and had conversations with individuals about what we can do to combat climate change.
These are the leadership traits I developed:
1) Confidence - faith in myself and in what I can accomplish with enough effort. I feel that I grew in perseverance with learning how to recruit signatures and having conversations with reachouts. I conquered several hurdles that initially were stressful to me.
2) Initiative - transforming an idea into tangible action. Although I've long seen many unsustainable practices on campus and been frustrated by them, I'm now taking real action to try and create solutions.
3) Grit - perseverance throughout circumstances that aren't in my favor. I've learned that effective climate action isn't easy to accomplish. It requires hard work, time, commitment, and resilience. Small breakthroughs mean a lot.
I know "true leaders give." These are the main ways I gave to the group:
1) Acceptance - I always felt that our group meetings were a positive and accepting space for many different personalities, all of which were appreciated.
2) Time - our group spent a lot of time with each other. We got to know each other well through the meetings and this created a very friendly environment.
3) Feedback - as a group, we bounced ideas off of each other and depended on the constructive criticism of our peers.
I've also learned a lot about the carbon offset market and effective ways to reduce carbon emissions. The internship has also changed my perspective on what effective climate action looks like and how many solutions are subject to greenwashing.
Due to the real-world experience that we gained throughout the internship, I feel that my time with CNI was more valuable that most college classes I've paid for. I learned real-world skills and the challenges that accompany climate action in the professional world. Although an educational background is important to understanding key concepts and the theory that underlies practice, at CNI we gained both formal learning and field experience.
The group of individuals was also extremely engaging. Our regular meetings enabled us to know each other well, and we often had thought-provoking and productive conversations. A lecture-based course lacks this element of engagement, and not all students are typically as invested as the group within CNI.
The most important thing people should know about CNI is that climate action within a startup isn't easy or immediately gratifying work. Progress takes time and perseverance, and interns with CNI have to be prepared to deal with setbacks and hearing "no."
Contact Erica on LinkedIn.