Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail- Interning at the SLC Planning Office
“Here, we celebrate our failures with doughnuts.” Yeah, sure. I nod. Makes sense. The Director sits across the desk from me in my windowless office. He continues, “A failure is an opportunity to learn something. Successes...those can come by luck or by accident. A failure is never either. It is a systemic problem that you have the opportunity to fix. You also can’t succeed if you have an aversion to risks.” The words from a speech President Fox once gave to a matriculating class of first-years ring in my ears “Make mistakes and fail often.” I don’t like to do either of those things, but I do appreciate the occasional doughnut.
Based on my short time (about three weeks) in this office so far, I get the sense that failure- an extremely subjective concept- does not come too often for these folks. Occasionally, sure, but not frequently. Personally, I am a perfectionist. I like to do things well the first time. This of course does not happen as much as I’d like it to, so dealing with my own version of failures (often simply not reaching my own standards) is something I face regularly. I like to analyze my own failures, much like the office staff did together around the conference table with doughnuts that morning. I try to see mistakes as opportunities for learning, and I’ve learned a lot. Not being much of a numbers person, I was proud of a demographic report I’d put together for one of my projects. My supervisor pointed out to me that it was entirely lacking a story. I’d been so focused on putting accurate numbers in attractive tables that I forgot that part entirely. That’s what I get to do here, in my internship at the St. Lawrence County Planning Office; I get to make mistakes and learn from them. And I get to contribute to something good in the process.
I’m convinced that my supervisor, John Tenbusch, has a heart of gold. We spent the other afternoon bonding over the Oxford comma. He is quite personable and cares deeply about his work. He comes in voluntarily on weekends to ensure he’s doing everything he can to get resources to communities in need. All of the staff at the Planning Office are intelligent and compassionate- a fierce combination. They are relentlessly passionate about what is often thankless work and at the end of the day, they will do anything they can to better their community. That, I am proud to be a part of.
In my first few weeks, I have started both of the projects assigned to me as Environmental Intern. My first task was to research the communities within the project area for a shoreline resiliency grant project. I compiled information on zoning codes, Local Waterfront Revitalization Plans, demographics, and flood damage reports. Some of the work was tedious, but it was an excellent introduction into the scope of the Planning Office’s work. I participated in a day-long driving tour of the 40-mile project area (with a couple of meetings along the way). It sounds like I’ll get to tour the same area by boat by the end of the summer.
My second focus is the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), an invasive beetle species deadly to ash trees that has just reached St. Lawrence County. I attended a day-long workshop on Ash tree and invasive species mapping databases, attended the June monthly meeting of the EAB Task Force, and have been starting to work towards community outreach for developing EAB Community Preparedness Plans. Later in the summer, I will collaborate with Jess LaMay, a recent SLU graduate working at Nature Up North, on public awareness events for EAB.
In addition to those two projects, I have attended evening meetings for the Planning Board and the Environmental Management Council, recording minutes at each. I am invited to join in on staff meetings and site plan review discussions. So far we’ve had two staff lunches complete with Chinese take-out. It’s worth noting that successes are celebrated at the CPO too. And anniversaries, and birthdays, and Fridays. It’s a close-knit but welcoming group. Not only do I get to be a part of it, but I am pleased to feel that I am making valuable contributions to some important causes. I’m definitely going to owe the office some doughnuts by the time I am finished.