Like many other undergraduate interns, I made the pilgrimage to Washington for a summer of sticky heat and bustling activity. This being said, I differed from many of my fellow interns because I was not coming from a Liberal Arts or Humanities background. I am a Water: Resources, Policy, and Management major and Green Engineering minor in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, so my summer position at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was a perfect fit.
Even at the EPA, many of my fellow interns were law clerks with economics, philosophy, or political science backgrounds. Effective communication between the attorneys, policy wonks, and technical experts is vital to the agency’s success, and I was highly impressed by the quality of dialogue at headquarters. In any office, you can find engineers and scientists, lawyers, policy experts, and even data analysts. I have always been fascinated with bridging the gaps between science and policy, but this summer I saw how truly impactful STEM solutions are in public policy.
I was placed in the Enforcement Targeting and Data Division, where I was involved in many projects and predominantly worked with metadata. For example, one project that I worked on was creating an online data collection application for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits dealing with the discharge of remediated groundwater. The permits varied across states, and my job was to understand the commonalities and differences for each permit, so that our web developers could build a singular and effective online tool. I conducted conference meetings with technical permit writers and legal specialists to find each state’s user requirements for the tool. In my conversations with web developers, scientific experts, and attorneys, I experienced the truly interdisciplinary nature of environmental policy.
Outside of the office, I sought as many new experiences as possible. I had never lived in a large city before, and at first, I was definitely outside of my comfort zone. Eventually, I became extremely familiar with D.C. and Old Town Alexandria – where I was living. Often times I would walk down the National Mall and around the Tidal Basin after work. In addition to the most popular tourist sites, I found a plethora of new experiences in Washington. From art galleries to festivals, I tried to take full advantage of the city’s cultural wealth.
As I enter my Junior year, I still have many questions about my career trajectory and lifestyle. Never the less, my summer in Washington gave me a much clearer picture of my place in the world, and I am thrilled to learn more.