Undergraduates Gain Experience in Environmental Innovation through Summer Internships

September 13, 2017

DURHAM, N.C. – This summer, Duke University undergraduates from a wide variety of majors embarked on entrepreneurial experiences and hands-on internships offered through the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative’s I&E Certificate Program.  

Some of these students focused not only on learning about innovation and entrepreneurship through their experiences, but also on making a positive impact on the environment.
Here are four of the students’ stories:

ENV_Stella.jpeg

EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAM FOR THE EPA
Stella Wang, a junior environmental science major, spent the summer interning at the EPA’s Emergency Response Team. The team works for all the regions of the EPA to aid in emergency situations like oil spills and train derailments, and it also works on long-term remediation and other consultation projects for regions that request it.

During her internship, Wang was able to visit Superfund sites, or hazardous sites that the EPA was cleaning up, as well as help in the chemistry lab.

Wang said she also used innovative thinking during her internship. In the chemistry lab, she helped optimize use of the fluorometer, an instrument that utilizes fluorescence to detect the presence and determine the concentration of pollutants, and design a prototype for point monitoring.

Wang said she chose to major in Environmental Science not only because she loves working in the sciences but because she wants to help people. She is especially interested in public health.

“By working in the environmental field this summer, I learned that I can look at big picture problems and think of ways to solve them and ultimately help people,” she says. “At the EPA, I was fortunate to have been able to see the environmental management process from a government perspective, which included becoming familiar with their technology, operations, and policies.”

National Wildlife Refuge Association Intern elliott davis story

NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE ASSOCIATION
Elliott Davis, a sophomore environmental science and policy major, is interested in the environment in all aspects, from his classes to his extracurricular role as co-president of the Environmental Alliance at Duke. He has held internships in the past in which he worked on clean energy and climate change, but this summer, he wanted to learn about a new area of environmental policy.

Davis became the Conservation Policy Stanback Intern at the National Wildlife Refuge Association, a position run through Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

The internship was exciting to him because animals triggered his initial interest in the environment. He became a vegetarian at age 5 and soon began learning about other areas of environmental protection, realizing that the best way to help animals was by helping the environment holistically.

The National Wildlife Refuge Association is a collection of public lands across the dedicated to the conservation of animal species. The association works on funding these lands and on fighting policy changes that threaten them.

During his internship, Davis focused on communication efforts to relay policy changes or threats to existing policies. He wrote blog posts and social media posts. He also had the opportunity to attend committee hearings on Capitol Hill and to meet senators who hold similar beliefs about protecting the environment.

“I’ve realized there are stark parallels between entrepreneurship and the policy/advocacy realm,” Davis says. “In both fields, you have an idea and you need to get others to support it.”

An entrepreneur needs to market his or product, Davis explained. Similarly, he had to use communication strategies to inform existing advocates and to gain new advocates. He also tried to be innovative in his approach to social media, researching past outreach efforts to determine which types of posts would be most effective, and also using new types of content that hadn’t been used by the organization before, such as a 30-second video.

Davis plans to continue exploring the intersections of innovation and environmental policy – ultimately, he said, he wants to work in a place where he can try new things.

Duke Engineers for International Development Uganda Elle Smyth story

SOLAR POWERED CLINIC IN UGANDA
Elle Smyth, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, embarked on work this summer that had both a social and an environmental impact.

As part of the student group Duke Engineers for International Development, Smyth had the opportunity to travel to Uganda to help build a solar-powered medical clinic for a village.

“I think the project uses every level of entrepreneurship, which is great,” she says. “Our organization surveys the area beforehand to collect data and see which type of project would benefit the community the most – that’s identifying the problem. Then we worked to design the building, write grants, and fundraise. We had to pitch the project to the community to make sure they liked it – that’s satisfying the customer. Then, during the building process, we continually got feedback and sometimes had to pivot to make sure we were meeting people’s needs.”

The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative helped fund the travel costs Smyth incurred.

“I’m so grateful that Duke I&E could fund over half my trip and make it possible for me to go,” she says. “This project allowed me to have a real impact on the community and the environment and allowed me to see how engineering and entrepreneurship can change the world.”

PASSAIC VALLEY SEWERAGE COMMISSION Dan Yanes story

PASSAIC VALLEY SEWERAGE COMMISSION
Dan Yanes, a junior structural engineering major, spent the last two summers interning at the Passiac Valley Sewerage Commission, a wastewater treatment plant in New Jersey.

This summer, he got to work under a structural engineer, contributing to both repairs from Hurricane Sandy and flood prevention projects.

By the time this summer rolled around, Yanes had already taken three of the four required courses for the I&E Certificate.

“The courses helped me a lot in the job – the difference was noticeable from the first summer to the second summer,” Yanes says. “I really like the innovation side of innovation and entrepreneurship because it offers a lot of opportunities to be creative.”

One of the projects that Yanes worked on during both summers required him to set up a receiving nozzle at a dock for a barge to deposit liquid waste. The first summer, he helped set up the original system, but then the company began to use a different size barge. The second summer, he had to come up with innovative ways to adjust the system to accommodate the new barge.

“It was cool to see the boat coming in and know that stuff I was working on was having an impact,” Yanes says. “Wastewater treatment affects everyone, but a lot of people take it for granted. Having the opportunity to work at the plant that takes sewage from my home, turns it into treated wastewater, and pumps it back into the river was great because I realized how these processes directly influence individuals.”

LEARN MORE
You can learn more about student opportunities offered through Duke’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program here.
Note: This story is adapted from one originally posted on the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative new page.