HomeEducation2021 Sustainability Corps Interns Advance Sustainability Across a Variety of Projects

2021 Sustainability Corps Interns Advance Sustainability Across a Variety of Projects

Hi, I’m Maria Morande! I am a student participating in the Institute on the Environment’s Sustainability Corps program, interning with the U of M’s Department of Applied Economics. I interviewed a few of my program peers and am writing this blog post to share their experiences, as well as my own, in Sustainability Corps so far. 

The Sustainability Corps program offers students the chance to learn about sustainability issues in the state of Minnesota, all while gaining hands-on professional experience with local nonprofits, governmental agencies or University of Minnesota faculty. Internships are unpaid, however students with financial need receive a scholarship or one-time stipend thanks to generous funding from Ecolab and individual donors. 

Students accepted to the program are paired with a professional in the field of renewable energy transition, clean water, or sustainable land use and commit to between 100 and 140 hours of service and 14 hours of leadership and professional development training. The program is also open to student-initiated projects which aim to advance these focus areas. 

The Sustainability Corps program allows students to engage in diverse learning and professional experiences, engaging with environmental work from many different approaches.

Evan Redepenning, a fourth-year Management Information Systems (MIS) student in the Carlson School, is involved in a student-initiated leadership project focused on developing community gardens in the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis. “I wanted to find the most economical way for students and community members to build their own garden and make their own food,” he said. When asked about how the Sustainability Corps program has helped him with his professional goals, Redepenning offered this, “I have always wanted to get into the urban farming process but have not had the opportunity, prior to this program. In the future, if this is something I plan to stick with, I will have an excellent knowledge base. I have met an excellent range of people who have been willing to help and may serve as great resources and mentors in the future.”

Manashree Padiyath, a second year student in the College of Liberal of Arts studying Political Science and Sociology, has spent her summer working with MN350, a climate justice organization, on their Food Systems team. Through her internship, Manashree has been able to incorporate her strong interest in STEM with her Political Science and Sociology majors.
Prior to moving toward the social sciences, Manashree says she grew up very involved in the world of science. She did lab research projects with mentorship from faculty in the soil sciences department at the University of Minnesota, competed in science fairs up to the international level, and even created patent-pending technology. “Growing up, I thought that if you go into science, you have to stick to science, or if you go into policy, you have to stick to policy. However, I’ve learned that it’s really all blended: one doesn’t exist without the other. I think I found the perfect niche for me: working to solve our world’s greatest environmental challenges, all through the lens of policy.”

Manashree says her relationship with sustainability has been fostered by her vibrant heritage and her sustainability-minded parents. “Coming from a culture that is incredibly focused on sustainability and ensuring a healthy earth for future generations, I have always been cognizant of whether my actions are sustainable and how my lifestyle impacts the planet. Unfortunately, we have this misconception that sustainability is a white-centered concept when in reality, Indigenous, African, and Eastern communities have long been practicing sustainable living principles. I think there should be a greater emphasis on decolonizing sustainability, and I am fortunate to be surrounded by brilliant BIPOC leaders who are determined to build a movement accessible to all. When applying to this internship, I knew that I would enjoy the policy aspect of science, but I didn’t have any real practical experience with lobbying or organizing around a piece of legislation. This internship and the experiences I’ve gained through it, have solidified for me that I have truly found my calling.

Lila Insook is a rising junior in the College of Design studying architecture with a minor in Sustainability. Through Sustainability Corps, Lila has spent her summer working with Project Sweetie Pie, an organization fighting for environmental justice, food sovereignty and racial equity based in North Minneapolis. Lila is applying her major to help design the Celestial Garden, a North Minneapolis food forest. As a future architect, Lila says that her internship has helped her see the importance of regional solutions and community involvement. She says her internship has helped reinforce how important these concepts are in a real world context. 

 “Architecture is typically coming down from ‘above’ and implementing solutions. I’ve learned the value of starting on the ground level, getting the input of a community, and moving forward from there.” Lila’s internship also helped her hone her skills in self directed work, which she believes will be a useful skill in her future. “I’ve been given a lot of autonomy in my position. My internship has helped me learn how to take leadership as opposed to just being given it.”

Megan Klebs, a rising senior in the Carlson School studying Supply Chain and Operations, is interning at Ecolab through Sustainability Corps. Megan’s project with Ecolab has involved research focusing on Sustainable Communities and helping Ecolab better understand the community their headquarters are situated in. Megan’s internship is her first experience working in sustainability in a corporate setting and she hopes to continue to work in sustainability. Through her internship, Megan has been able to learn about her community in ways she hadn’t previously had the opportunity to. “I have read so many news articles for my research and learned so much about the smaller issues going on that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned about.” Megan will also be interviewing people throughout Ecolab to get a better idea of what sustainability efforts and community involvement look like within a Fortune 500 company.

My own experience as a participant in Sustainability Corps has been a highlight of my undergraduate experience thus far. My research on Corporate Sustainability Disclosures with the Department of Applied Economics has allowed me to explore potential applications of my business education in academia. The opportunity to interact with leaders in sustainability in multinational corporations, global sustainability organizations and researchers on the U of M’s campus have shown me all the avenues I could take to advance sustainability and the potential for collaboration across these spheres. Seeing firsthand how these different fields interact and collaborate has been an illuminating experience. I know that my experience with Sustainability Corps will affect the trajectory of my career.

Through these projects and more, this summer’s Sustainability Corps interns are applying their skills and knowledge to advance sustainability in the Twin Cities and beyond. Students interested in fall or spring internships through the Institute can register for the course SUST 4096: Sustainability Internships. After enrolling in the course, students with financial need can apply for an Ecolab scholarship to fund their internship.

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