Final Report For Ocean Alliance Internship:
I decided to work for Ocean Alliance this summer because the internship position that I was offered effectively combined my strong personal interest in marine conservation with my desire to gain work experience in a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental issues. Many of the environmental careers that I am interested in pursuing relate to administrative work, fundraising and or public relations, I realize there is a strong potential I will be working for small, poorly funded organizations. It is for this reason that I wanted to learn first-hand the benefits as well as frustrations involved in this type of work environment. Because this internship was so firmly rooted in my career goals as well as well as my personal interests, I was very invested in the experience from the beginning and had many goals that I wanted to accomplish.
One of my objectives for the summer was to learn as much as possible about North Atlantic whales, their habitat, and the relevant environmental issues or concerns in order to successfully teach passengers about conservation and be able to answer their questions. The main mission statement of O.A. is “we conserve what we love, we love what we understand, and we understand what we are taught”. In possessing a firm knowledge about whales and their environment, I hoped to do my part to educate our passengers, conveying to them my love for the ocean and hopefully instilling in them a shared desire to conserve it.
In addition to expanding my knowledge about whales, I hoped that the position of an educator would help me to improve my public speaking skills. I expected that having to address large crowds of 200 people would improve my confidence and ability to conduct public presentations. In addition, I felt the experience would further develop my interpersonal communication skills, as I would be responsible for initiating introductions, engaging in discussions about whales and answering participants’ questions. Furthermore, in order to advocate for a certain environmental issue in future work, and successfully convince people about the importance of conservation, it is imperative that I possess good communication skills and the ability to present information in a clear, confident manner. While working on the boat, I hoped to develop the educational skills necessary to make a difference in people’s attitudes concerning the ocean and the need for its conservation.
My objectives for the office portion of the internship were somewhat different from those of the educator position. Overall, I was hoping to improve my administrative skills and get a firm grasp of the type of work involved in running an environmental N.G.O. I wanted to understand and feel comfortable with the type of work atmosphere that exists in a non-profit organization, so that if and when I apply for a similar position, I will have had some prior experience. Because I worked as the development assistant and primarily did fundraising and public relations-related tasks, one of my goals was to gain exposure to the grant writing process in case I need this type of experience in a future job. Additionally, I wanted to enhance my understanding of the type of work that administrative/development positions entail, because they are useful job skills to have.
As the summer progressed, many unexpected challenges arose for me during my internship. One aspect of the position for which I was unprepared was the amount of time spent both on the boat and in the office. While I had arranged with my employer, Cynde, who was the head naturalist at Ocean Alliance, to work 4-5 full days a week, I did not anticipate putting in 11-hour days and often working 6 days a week. The scheduling for interns tended to change each week, with the amount of hours and days that we all worked depending on each other’s availability and outside work commitments. This inevitably resulted in some people working more than others, and often having to forfeit days off in order to properly staff the boat, which was at times quite frustrating.
In addition, because most of the interns lived in the apartment above our supervisor, there were a lot of little ongoing projects that Cynde had us work on during our free time at night, such as researching articles or making/repairing educational tools that were used on the boat. In truth, after a few weeks of the internship, I was somewhat exhausted and overwhelmed by the amount of work that we were all doing. Although my frustrations with working long hours were offset by the knowledge that our work was meaningful and well needed, it was still a difficult adjustment period that took some getting used to.
Another unexpected aspect of the internship that grew to frustrate me as time went on was the logistical problems associated with commuting to the office for the one day per week that we each worked there. The office was about a 45 minute drive away, traffic permitting, and it became frustratingly clear early on that often times we were unexpected and or un-needed when we arrived. The communication between the office and the interns was lacking, and seemed to be indicative of the general disorganization that existed on their end.
The staff at the Ocean Alliance office was small, and they undoubtedly needed all of the help they could get, but at the same time, each of the employees were so busy taking care of their various assignments and projects that they often did not have time to delegate work, or were so unorganized that they had nothing prepared for us on which to work. As a result, we often got “lost” in the busy mix of the office, either not having enough work to keep us occupied for the entire time that we were there, or else having to wait around until someone was available to sit down and explain instructions etc. In general, it just seemed like the employees never made good use of the free, eager-to-help interns that were available to them, and their inability to effectively delegate work to us remained a frustration throughout the summer. In the future, it would be much more time efficient and beneficial to the staff if they were able to clearly organize intern projects prior to the interns’ arrival at the office. This sort of structured work environment would greatly reduce the interns’ frustrations associated with the office being too disorganized. Perhaps it would be beneficial to issue a weekly schedule in order to delegate short-term tasks to future interns.
The limited guidance provided in the office certainly impacted the amount and type of work that I did there, yet some aspects of my experience were quite rewarding. My primary task was to assist with development projects, with my agenda for the summer being mainly to research and update all of the contact information of potential donor organizations, foundations, and individuals as well as summarize their respective mission statements. Summarizing their missions and goals allowed us to see what types of projects each donor typically funded, so that when O.A. contacted them with a grant proposal, it would be targeted towards their respective interests. After I had updated all of the contact information on the “foundation master list”, I was supposed to assess which type of initial proposal (letter of inquiry) we should send them, meaning, decide what aspect of our organization’s mission would seem most appealing to them. This was an informative and enjoyable project for me, for not only did I get the chance to learn about a variety of organizations and foundations that may be beneficial for future job searches, but I also gained valuable insight about effective fundraising skills. Having been interested in pursuing an administrative and or development position in an N.G.O as a possible career, learning how to “pitch” or “sell” our organization’s goals to potential donors was a beneficial experience for me.
The last portion of my development work was to edit and actually send out grant proposals to prospective donors, but unfortunately, that part of the project never took place. This was partially due to the sheer lack of time that I had in the office to get work done. While I spent 4 or 5 days a week working on the boat, and was thus able to make impressive progress over the course of the summer, working one half day in the office per week did not prove to be enough time to make any significant headway in my work. In fact, I ended up taking the foundation master list home at night to work on it so that I could get more accomplished. In order for future interns to maximize the learning opportunities available in this internship, I would recommend a more balanced distribution of time spent in the office and on the boat. However, aside from the lack of overall time I was able to spend at the office, the progress on my project was inhibited by the fact that other tasks arose later in the summer that necessitated more immediate attention than did the issuing of grant proposals. As a result of this, my last three weeks at the office were spent helping to prepare for the impromptu fundraiser and PR event that was to occur in August.
Although I feel that my personal progress with the development work at the office was not as rapid or extensive as I would have hoped, my experience on the boat was quite opposite. After the first few weeks, I grew pleasantly aware that my breadth of knowledge pertaining to ocean as well as my ability to communicate that information to passengers had increased dramatically. I had greatly expanded my understanding about feeding and breathing habits of whales, influences on their migration, sources of human and industrial pollution, and more. And as I became comfortable with our “teaching tools” (pictures, models, audio tutors), and gained experience in oral presentation styles, I soon felt that I was making vast improvements in my role as an educator. I was surprised by how quickly I absorbed information and also by how easily I learned to approach complete strangers and talk to them for extended periods of time about whales, the ocean, and general marine conservation issues. I was thrilled by this part of the internship because with every day spent on the boat, I was continuing to learn, improve my communication skills, and share valuable lessons with others.
In retrospect, having the opportunity to interact with so many different types of people each day was one of the most valuable aspects of this internship. Talking to individuals from all walks of life and educating them about ocean conservation issues truly gave me the impression that our work at O.A. was stretching to far corners of the world. It was both encouraging and motivating to think that our limited conversations with people aboard an afternoon whale watch could potentially have a lasting impact on each of their lives. Whether I succeeded in sparking interest about whales in a young, uninterested, inner city child on a required YMCA field trip, or an entire foreign family on vacation, it was rewarding to see the impression my work could make on the general public. Although Ocean Alliance is small and lacks resources and organization like many non-profit groups, my experiences on the boat in particular made me realize the importance and effectiveness of its public education work, as well as my role within it.
My internship with Ocean Alliance turned out to be a rewarding as well
enlightening summer. There were certainly challenges in the work that I did,
especially with the long days on the boat and frustrating times in the office,
yet those experiences in particular taught me a lot about what I can expect
if I decide to work for an environmental non-profit organization in the future.
The work is hard and often frustrating, and in reality those frustrations are
not always outweighed by the sense of pride and satisfaction commonly associated
with the “noble” services provided by N.G.O.s. Indeed, there are
far more desirable and glamorous modes of entertainment than trying to capture
the attention of highly distracted elementary school students aboard a pitching
and rolling deck. Smelling like fish and sporting a dreadful sunglass tan did
little to bolster one's spirits. Yet that is not to say that the work is without
reward or enjoyment. I love to be outside. I love to interact with people. And
I am dedicated to working to protect and conserve the environment. So despite
minor problems associated with my internship, the fact that I still loved it
was encouraging because it proved to me that I am both capable of, and possibly
even cut out for, future work with an environmental non-profit organization.