New Summer Experiences

Hello everyone! My name is Riley McGrath, and I am one of the Frederick Award recipients this year. I’m originally from Norristown, Pennsylvania; I am a rising senior at Pitt and I am majoring in Environmental Studies and Urban Studies, with a minor in public service, and certificates in Sustainability and Geographic Information Systems. This summer I will be doing an internship with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club as a political intern. 

I did not know what I wanted to major in when I applied to Pitt, I just knew I was interested in helping people, but I really had no knowledge of what jobs were out there for me. My dad works as a steamfitter, and my mom is a lunch lady, so I did not have a background in jobs available to me other than what I was exposed to on a day to day basis. While in high school, I volunteered at a zoo, so I thought I could be a zookeeper, I worked as a waitress, so I thought I could do that for the rest of my life. I was good at science, so I thought maybe I should be a doctor, but that just didn’t feel right. I was very lost about my future, I barely wanted to go to college because if I didn’t know what my exact career was going to be at that moment then what was the point?. My parents still encouraged me to go to college since it was an opportunity they didn’t have and they know how important education is. So I moved to a new city 5 hours away from where I was from with no idea what I was doing. Things changed for me when I got to Pitt being in Pittsburgh, learning about the city, and meeting great people led me to major in Environmental Studies and Urban Studies. I added my minor in public service and my certificates when I saw how well they fit with my majors, and the more skills I had the better because I still didn’t know what job I wanted. 

My whole life the goal set by my parents for me was to go to college, so I honestly never really thought about what I will do as a career. College was always the only thing on my mind and it is hard to imagine how my life will go forward afterward. I was not able to get an internship before this summer, because I have had to work in the summers and most internships in the areas I am interested in are unpaid, so this award is finally giving me the opportunity to explore my options. Professionally,  I know the general areas I want to be in, I’m interested in sustainable urban planning, green buildings, and environmental justice, but I have no concrete professional goals. My goals right now are to make a difference in the world and have new experiences. I want to feel good about what I do as a career, whatever it may end up being, and help people, especially for underrepresented people. New experiences are important to me because I stay in my comfort zone a lot, and its a small comfort zone. I want to be able to travel and live in different places, something that I have not been able to do before college. I have lived in Pennsylvania my whole life, and so have my parents (in fact, I live in the same house my dad grew up in), and so did their parents. I want to be able to take on leadership positions, network, and communicate my aspirations. I think being a first-generation college student has impeded me in these aspects, because my parents are not white-collar workers, I did not know that these are necessary things in the professional world. So I’m still working on what I want and where I can go, because it is all new to me. The ultimate goal I have l for my adult life is to live in a seaside cottage and have pet rabbits; that’s all that I want really. Hopefully, I can have a cool and fulfilling career as well.

I’m really excited for my internship this summer because it is pushing me out of my comfort zone. As a political intern, I will be placed directly with a Sierra Club endorsed political campaign in Pennsylvania, and will work with that campaign to promote environmental advocacy. I care a lot about politics, but I do not know as much as I should, so with my internship I hope to be more politically aware, especially in regard to my home state’s politics. It’s also a great opportunity to learn more about the ins and outs of working for a non-profit as well as for a political campaign. 

 I was originally planning on doing an internship with NYC Climate Action Alliance, where I would live in New York City and work with landlords to make their apartments more energy-efficient as well as run their social media. I was excited for an opportunity to live in a new environment and learn about urban sustainability from a New York perspective. I would still be able to work there despite shutdowns, but my position as an intern there would be much more limited, so I decided to go with the Sierra Club internship. Even though it is remote, it seems like it will be hands-on.

 Politics are not what I am primarily interested in, but I think I will learn a lot from interning there, maybe even a clear career path. I hope that working with a political campaign will allow me to reach out to people who aren’t always apart of the conversation and get them to be heard. There are very important elections coming up, so I’m happy that I can get more people voting and taking action. I’m overall just excited to get some real-world work experience that I can apply to my last year of college. I will soon be finding out which political campaign I’ll be working with, and I’m really looking forward to getting started!

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