Paying It Forward: A conversation between a past and a present intern
Each year, the Dartmouth Sustainability Office staff is joined by a senior Sustainable Dartmouth Intern. This intern serves as a liason between the student sustainability community and the Office, develops new programs and events to broaden the reach of sustainabilty on campus, and helps think strategically about expanding the scope and scale of sustainability at Dartmouth and in the world. During the 2013-2014 academic year, Sarah Alexander ‘14, worked as the Sustainable Dartmouth Intern. During her four years at Dartmouth, Sarah developed various sustainability programs such as EcoVate, Growing Change, the Waste Internship, and many others. In addition to being a leader amongst her peers, Sarah was a thought leader for the office. Last week she sat down with this year’s Sustainable Dartmouth Intern, Meg Rauner '17, to share advice and to discuss community building, fostering leadership, and her time while an intern in the Office at Dartmouth.
Meg: The sustainability community is both broad - drawing in students with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and involvements on campus - and narrow, attracting students primarily interested in environmental sustainability and certain hot topic environmental issues. How do we build an inclusive community that supports all those types of students?
Sarah: I saw the office as having two functions. One was to give the community a high-touch, deep-green experience. Those students were fully integrated, working in the Office, and very much identified the sustainability community as their primary community on campus. The second was to provide more of a green lense. That was for students who, maybe, come to one event a year, or come because a friend told them to, but it is not their full time commitment. Some people really do just want that light touch. For example, BrewHaha and other large social events at the farm are successful even though most of those students don't view the sustainability ‘community’ to be their primary committment.
M: How did you try to organize structures to do both those functions?
S: We spent time parsing out those groups - making "road maps" for different students. Thinking about how students can get involved and how they can access the right level of engagement based on their need. You don’t want to make the office a point of validation for the whole community. We had to think about ‘how do I bring participation and leadership to the community without hinging on the working for the Sustainability Office?’
M: That’s so hard to do. So many of the leaders either apply for internship positions within the Sustainabiltiy Office or are already involved to begin with - are we poaching from our own student group?
S: That’s why programs like EcoReps are great, because they get students, who may not otherwise get involved, engaged their freshman year, and then those EcoReps go out and become leaders in student run clubs, or Green Groups (ECO, Divest Dartmouth, Farm Club). But EcoReps doesn’t reach all the students interested in being sustainability change agents while on campus. It's important to also create space for leaders to develop through student organizing and action through Green Groups. Green Groups have the advantageor being more flexible and giving students more autonomy -- students value this.
M: What were the “hot” issues while you were the Sustainable Dartmouth Intern?
S: Social justice was just becoming a word people were talking about with sustainability. Story-telling was becoming popular - hearing different voices. We were just beginning to think about how sustainability plugs into social justice movements
M: Yea, we’re still talking about that. How to get involved, trying to create unity and cohesion and support all of our students.
S: Now you have a much larger community you can call on. In the beginning, we didn’t have that backbone. And that’s so huge. That’s what we really focused on while I was working for the Office.
M: How did you develop new initiatives and internships? Did you feel like the needs presented themselves or were there topics that you were interested in that you felt didn’t have the attention they needed?
S: Well, for example, EcoVate came out of this problem we had - there was nothing to keep people engaged their sophomore and junior year if they’re not interns in the Office and while they are bouncing between off terms. The Office had piloted a "How Dartmouth Works" series in the past - to introduce everyone to all the systems connected to sustainability change at Dartmouth. But, I mean the issues in sustainability: energy, waste, food, etc. will always be the same issues. And that can be so inhibiting to innovation - no one could think of fun stuff they wanted to work on. So we were thinking, how do we empower people to solve the same problems but think about them in creative ways. But honestly it wasn’t “let’s bring together sustainability and design thinking” it was “how do we engage students their sophomore and junior year.” And that’s really where it came from - identifying a need and identifying a group of students.
M: Did you spend a lot of time...
S: I lived there. Yea I lived there. It was great becoming friends with Office staff. The Sustainability Office was my retreat place. I went there to escape stuff. I went there in my free time because I really liked it. We were that community to each other. After big stuff happens on campus, it’s great to just be there in the office to brainstorm and talk.
M: Looking back at your time, what are you most proud of?
S: I’m proud of so much. I’m proud the office has a community. It’s crazy that people identify as part of the sustainability community - that their main involvement on campus is the sustainability office. That’s awesome. That makes me so happy.