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Sustainability Students Conduct Summer Internships

Over the summer, several St. Lawrence University Sustainability Semester students conducted internships as part of the experiential component of the program. Some, like Heron Hetzler ’16 and David Smith ’15, interned in northern New York, while others, such as Caeleigh Warburton ’15, completed internships in Boston.

Heron came to St. Lawrence already familiar with sustainable living. Her life had consisted of her father living off the grid and growing his own food at his Pierrepont home. She had been homeschooled and was comfortable with the homesteading lifestyle. She had also already come to understand the importance of community in supporting a sustainable lifestyle.

“People really can’t do it all on their own,” she said. “They need other like-minded people to create and foster a greater community of sustainability.”

Heron interned this summer for Nature Up North, a St. Lawrence University community-based organization that is funded through grants and alumni donations and whose mission is to foster a deeper sense of appreciation for and connection to the North Country environment. There, she helped teach workshops that educated community members about their environment and how lead more sustainable lifestyles.

Heron approaches sustainability differently than some might expect. She’s an art major, and she’s been interested in environmental art since before she even knew what it was.

“Many people have this mindset that we’re deprived if we can’t get something right now, right away,” she said. “I’m interested in changing that mindset by helping people change their lifestyles and their philosophy on life. Environmental art is a way to demonstrate that change visually.”

The first Sustainability Semester was held in the spring 2013 semester. Since then, two cohorts of students have spent their spring semester living at the Sustainability site, located just a few miles from St. Lawrence’s main campus. The program is designed to give the next generation of thinkers and leaders the tools to tackle the globally important challenges of sustainability. One unique aspect of the program is that students who successfully complete the semester are guaranteed a paid internship either in the North Country or in Boston, often secured and funded through connections with St. Lawrence alumni.

Program director Cathy Shrady explained that the Sustainability Semester isn’t just about students living on a farm, growing their own food and making choices about energy use – although they do that, too.

“Sustainability is about responsible investment; sustainability encompasses entrepreneurs; and sustainability is learning the science related to climate change and renewable energy,” said Shrady, who is also an associate professor of geology and director of Outdoor Studies and the Adirondack Semester. “Just about any field of interest for a student can lead to a career that contributes to sustainability and meeting the huge challenges of climate change and the need for resilience.”

Caeleigh was the first student to take part in both St. Lawrence's Adirondack and Sustainability semesters. In fact, she went straight from one and into the next.

“I wanted to learn more about this lifestyle that I’ve been sinking into, and I saw the Sustainability Semester as a half-way point between the yurts (where Adirondack Semester students live) and campus,” she said. “It was also a chance to take the experiences of the Adirondack Semester and turn it into something I can use in my everyday life.”

Read an article written by Caeleigh and published by the Huffington Post

This summer, Caeleigh interned for the Environmental Projection Agency in Boston, where she built a database of community assessment and vulnerability plans that will serve as a repository for a variety of state and local governments. Interning in a large city, she saw some immediate differences in sustainability practices between rural northern New York and Boston. Yet to her, the two regions exist interdependently.

“Coming into Boston, for me, it felt removed from the source of it all,” said the sociology major, who is from Holderness, New Hampshire. “But when you live in a city, your carbon footprint is smaller than when you live in the country. People walk all over the place and take public transportation. In the North Country, you have to think a little bit harder about sustainability; it’s a much more deliberate and critical practice. They’re opposites, but they’re also connected.”

David Smith ’15 is a native of Potsdam who conducted his internship at the St. Lawrence County Planning Office. There, he gathered data on how much low-income residents in the county spend on heating their homes and wrote a case study calculating the payback of home energy improvements.

“Residents spend about $85 million on home heating, and that’s money that’s leaving the county,” he said. “My study showed that the average payback for home energy upgrading is four-and-a-quarter years. So it’s definitely something worth pursuing.”

David joined the Sustainability Semester partially because of the guaranteed internship but also because of the hands-on learning aspect of the program. One of the things he took away from the experience was that learning didn’t just take place in the classroom.

“We not only took classes together, but we lived together, cooked together, did chores together, and even went out together on Fridays,” he said. “Classroom discussions would often continue at the dinner table and were really interesting. I’d like to work in the renewable energy field, but I also want to live a more local, more sustainable lifestyle where I’m self sufficient and can put solar panels on my house if I want to.”

An information session on the upcoming Sustainability Semester will be held at 7 p.m. on Sept. 17 in the Sullivan Student Center. Applications for the Spring 2015 session are due by Oct. 15. Visit www.stlawu.edu/sustainability-semester.

2014 St. Lawrence University Sustainability Semester Summer Internships

Olivia Downs ’15 of Averill Park – Emerald Necklace, Boston

Emma Duffany ’15 of St. Johnsbury, Vt. – GardenShare-Farmers' Market Promotion Intern, Canton

Heron Hetzler ’16 of Potsdam – Nature Up North Intern, Canton

Sean Morrissey ’16 of Milton, Vt. – Social Media/Marketing Intern (ClimateStore), Boston

Lauren Olson ’15 of Colchester, Vt. – CCE-Permaculture Demonstration Plot, Canton

Jamie Oriol ’17 of West Hartford, Conn. – Sustainability Semester-Seed, Canton

Lanika Sanders ’17 of New Hartford – Sweetcore IPM Researcher, Hermon (New York)

David Smith ’15 of Potsdam, County Planning Office Intern, Canton

Myles Trainer ’15 of Ludlow, Vt. – Recover Green Roof Intern, Boston

Caeleigh Warburton ’15 of Holderness, N.H. – EPA Climate Resiliency Intern, Boston