Internship Final Report
Though it took a couple of weeks at the beginning before my internship really got going, once it did it was very productive and educational. Judith Johnson, my advisor, was very helpful and approachable, and the weekly or bi-weekly meetings that we had were interesting and relevant. It was nice to work with someone from the community, and it was an added bonus that Judith is a great mentor. She taught me a lot about what challenges her organization faces, partly because of the current administration, and how difficult it can be to meet so many road blocks when dealing with something you're so passionate about.
At the Festival of the River at Fort Walla Walla , I was able to meet two more members of the WW Backyard Stream Team. One of them worked for the city of WW in the department of planning for the watershed, and one of them, Priscilla, was a retired lady with a lot of spunk. Priscilla was very inspiring, and it was great to talk to her and hear some of the wise things she had to say. I was also able to interact with the public and talk about the Stream Team Pledge project, where they are trying to get community members to pledge to do certain things to take better care of their backyard riparian areas. Had I not been doing this internship and been required to be there, I definitely wouldn't have gone, and I would have missed out on meeting community members, learning about the WW community and their watershed policies, and seeing Native American dancers perform. Even though it was only for an afternoon, this activity was perhaps the one with the most lasting impression on me, as it got me out into the WW community and allowed me to observe interactions between different sectors of the WW population I encountered there.
One of my main tasks for the semester was to make phone calls to community members and talk to them about the pledge booklets that were sent out this summer by the Stream Team. I found that my enthusiasm for this task quickly diminished after my first few calls. Those calls woke me up to what a lot of the general public thinks about environmentalists and environmental issues, and it was hard for me to hear the hostility that some of the residents displayed. My first call was to an older woman who told me that I sounded very young and that I needed to get an education besides books before I should be calling around. She seemed especially rude to me after I told her that I went to Whitman, and that really opened my eyes to the barrier that exists between Whitman and the rest of the WW valley.
I spoke with Judith after my first round of calling, to further understand what I was supposed to say to rude and unreceptive responses, and that helped to get my courage back up. My second and third rounds of calling went a lot better, and I got many positive responses. Those positive responses helped me to keep the little hope that I had left that the WW community can make a difference and change to more environmentally-friendly living habits. It had been a valuable experience for me to see what a daunting task it is to involve the public in an issue that you feel passionately about and is controversial. After these phone calls I hope to get out into the WW community more and participate in community events, get to know more locals, etc. I would also like to learn how to handle ridicule and hostility better, and work to be patient and able to explain myself rather than get mad as a reaction.
Judith and I were both very busy during the semester, and at times it was a little hard to coordinate our schedules so that we could meet. E-mail was our primary form of communication, and Judith was very good about giving me explicit instructions and checking in if we hadn't met for awhile. It also helped that Judith is very involved on campus and has been for a long time, with many students, so she is very knowledgeable about who to contact and how things on campus work. Since most of the tasks I did were done on my own time, it was very important that I didn't procrastinate, something that I improved on as the semester continued.
My other main task for the semester was to organize an activity for Make a Difference Day. I worked with the Center for Community Service to figure out logistical stuff, and they made sure that I had volunteers for the project. I also worked with Judith on getting supplies ready, and we went out to the site at Fort WW beforehand to discuss what parts of Garrison Creek we would be cleaning up. Judith wasn't able to be there on the actual clean-up day, so it was up to me to be organized and to lead the group. Overall, it went very well. We got a lot of blackberries pulled and trash picked up, and I think everyone had a good time. I am really glad that I got a chance to organize this project, and felt really good about it afterwards. In the future, this is definitely something that should be continued. With pretty little effort, it is a great way to make a difference in the community and to get others involved. The only thing I would recommend is keeping in better contact with the Center for Community Service. I was kind of in the dark about what was expected from me and what was going to be taken care of by them, and it would have helped if I would have gone directly to them. It was a very good learning experience to be in a leadership role, and I will definitely participate in the day next year.
The purpose of making the phone calls was to gather data for the Psychology of Environmental Problems class, taught by Deborah Winters, so that they could then use that in their research project for the WW Backyard Stream Team. The project has been on-going for about 2 years, and it has been examining the effectiveness of phone calls versus door to door visits on how many people decide to pledge that they will take better care of their streams. I collected data from each phone call about the resident's response to my question about their plans to pledge or not pledge, and then recorded it in a table. I then gave the data to the psychology class, and sat in on their class when they were working on their project. It was interesting to see how I contributed to the overall project, and I really enjoyed seeing the bigger picture of what the project was aiming for and what had been discovered already. I'm not sure what direction the project is taking now, but I imagine that it will continue in some form or another.
Looking through the pledge booklet that the Stream Team made, I learned about ways to care for my yard and home that I had not known previously. There were many good ideas included in the booklet, including less-toxic cleaning alternative recipes and septic tank tips, and it was hard to accept that not everyone is willing to take the time to do these things, or even to read the pledge booklet. I also learned about some of the challenges that non-profits face, such as lack of volunteer participation, lack of funding, and lack of community support. The day after the election when I met with Judith, she was very upset because she knew that the next four years would be a constant battle for her organization since the elected administration does not support environmental stewardship.
This internship was enjoyable in most aspects. I learned a lot, got to know Judith and other community members, and was forced to step outside of my comfort zone and work through some cowardly and angry feelings. At times it was hard to meet with Judith, and I would not know how to continue working, but our communication through e-mail was consistent and helpful. In the future, I think it would be great if the interns could be involved with more activities and community events, like Make a Difference Day and the Festival of the River. Those activities greatly enhanced my experience, and were also fun and educational.