Coast to Capitol: ES Interns Delve into Local Environmental Projects

Story posted September 08, 2005

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Tom Elson '06 at the State Capitol.

Bowdoin senior Tom Elson '06 spends most summers leading wilderness trips through Minnesota's North Woods. He negotiated a different kind of wilderness this past summer - a labyrinth of environmental regulatory issues passing through the Maine Legislature.

Elson was a 2005 Kappa Psi Upsilon Environmental Studies Intern working at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, one of the state's leading environmental-advocacy and public-policy organizations. During his tenure at the Augusta-based organization, he researched the newly emerging issue of recycling electronic waste - such as computer equipment - and worked on projects promoting "green" design for affordable housing.

"I came in there without having any experience with an environmental policy issue, besides coursework," says Elson, who is an environmental studies/psychology double major. "I had a chance to dive deep. It was incredible being part of a large group doing wonderful things. Plus, I was able to go almost daily to observe the Senate and House of Representatives, the caucuses, the whole process."

Elson was one of seven Psi Upsilon interns working in Maine non-profits and governmental agencies over the summer. The internship, which is funded through the Kappa Psi Upsilon Environmental Studies Fund, provides paid 10-week internships to qualified students who are committed to working in the environmental field.

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Luke McKay '07 teaching at Maine Audubon.

"Bowdoin is uniquely endowed to offer students wide opportunities to take lessons learned in the classroom and see how they work in real life," notes DeWitt John, Bowdoin's Thomas F. Shannon Director of Environmental Studies. "Our location is close to the coast, and close to the State Capitol, with its impressive array of environmental organizations and scientific groups. The local government in the Town of Brunswick does very interesting, progressive work.

"Many of our students come back from these internships and do honors projects and independent studies directly related to what they did in the community."

Environmental Studies Program Manager Eileen Johnson says participating organizations also are grateful for the "nuts-and-bolts" assistance the students offer.

"Organizations talk about how helpful it is to have students move projects forward they wouldn't have time for otherwise," she says. "And these organizations offer our students invaluable educational experiences - attending high-level meetings in Brunswick and at the Statehouse, shadowing people in the field, and giving them projects they can take a great deal of responsibility for."

Other 2005 student interns and highlights of their work:

  • (John) Karsten Moran '05 - Maine Energy and Investment Corporation, Brunswick. Developed educational materials on environmentally friendly and beneficial energy initiatives, including Clean Energy Maine; Biodiesel for Maine; Solar Maine for Congregations; and Chewonki Renewable Hydrogen project.

  • Dan Herzberg '06 - Brunswick Department of Planning and Development. Learned planning-office functions and carried out assignments, including site visits, mapping trails using GIS software, and writing and creating an informational film for the New Meadows River Watershed Project.

  • Roger Burleigh '06 - Brunswick Department of Planning and Development. Performed a Historical Survey Update using GIS-mapping of registered structures in Brunswick; developing a new project called "Anatomy of a Town," which looks at the history of Brunswick's development; involvement in both the New Meadows River Watershed and Maine Street Station Development Projects.

  • Whitney Hogan '07 - The Nature Conservancy. As a continuation of a service-learning project, collected oral histories of past residents of Mt. Agamenticus in southern Maine, site of one of the largest coastal forest blocks between Acadia and the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The goal is to collect historical and cultural information that will be compiled into a book to aid conservation efforts.

  • Luke McKay '07 - Maine Audubon. Public outreach worker at the Scarborough Marsh and Gilsland Farm sites, educating visitors about the wildlife, habitat, and protection issues. Led interpretive walks, canoe tours, and wrote natural-history reports.

  • Lowell Walker '07 - Sagadahoc Region Rural Resource Initiative Mapping Project. Helped create maps that will be used by town governments to guide their natural resource conservation and land-use planning decisions. Maps include demarcation of mudflats, grasslands, and "special places" that deserve protection, as well as habitats of waterfowl, bald eagles and shellfish.

A poster display of the seven interns' projects is currently on view in the ES Commons, first floor, Adams Hall.

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A map created by Lowell Walker '07 shows undeveloped land needing to be conserved.

Elson says he expects his internship with the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRMC) will have lasting influence beyond his final year at Bowdoin: "I want to go to law school and do environmental law," he notes. "NRCM allowed me to work with two lawyers and get advice from them about possible career paths. Just being in the office exposed me to different areas of work I wouldn't have understood otherwise. I made a lot of connections there."

The Psi Upsilon Environmental Internship Program was established as an endowed fund in 1998 by several Bowdoin alumni as part of the purchase agreement by the College of the Psi Upsilon fraternity house - now Quinby House.

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