Internship Reflections: Skills, Styles and Structure

As I’ve learned more about environmental policies in Pennsylvania, I’ve become more involved in the Sierra Club’s advocacy and education work. I have conducted extensive campaign finance research, including compiling information about major donors to environmental champions so that the Sierra Club can foster sustainable financial support for key legislators. To encourage grassroots engagement, I’ve spent some time phone banking and asking volunteers to call their senators in opposition to a bill that would prohibit the DEP from capping carbon dioxide. In addition, much of my day is spent reading bills, taking notes from virtual hearings/meetings, and working on my power mapping project. I have found power mapping especially interesting; this work entails identifying which legislators to target to help advance the Sierra Club’s goals.

So far, I have developed and improved my adaptability and organizational skills. These transferable skills have been honed partly as a result of the remote environment, which has posed challenges and taught me to be more flexible. As I have several different projects going on and tabs open at the same time, I’m learning to better organize my work and quickly shift between tasks when needed. My communication skills are also improving—I find it easier now to be more direct, confident, and articulate.

Regarding technical/hard skills, I have become more adept at utilizing tools such as Hustle and Google Workspace. I have created several spreadsheets and learned to make them more user-friendly through a linked Google Doc, for example. As a result of reading policies and discussing bills with my supervisor, I’m developing stronger analysis and critical thinking skills. 

Prior to this internship experience, I would have described myself as a democratic leader who encourages participation and listens to the input of each group member. An introvert, I tend to listen to others and consider several perspectives before making a decision, so I am a very thoughtful leader. This internship has helped me learn to take initiative in my work and importantly, to be firmer in asking others to take action. For example, phone banking was a difficult task for me, but each call was easier and I gained confidence from calls with successful outcomes.

At times, my assignments are a bit ambiguous and my time is unstructured. I prefer to have a schedule and know exactly what is expected of me, so the freedom and lack of clear directions in my internship has been challenging. However, I’ve come to enjoy being able to take charge of projects, such as the power mapping research, and make them my own. For me, vague instructions can be frustrating, but I navigate this kind of situation by asking clarifying questions, sending drafts to my supervisor for feedback, and taking advantage of every opportunity to be creative. I have also learned to seek out experiences that will assist me with my future career, such as meeting individually with other Sierra Club staff whose work interests me.

I have just a few weeks remaining in my internship and look forward to finalizing my projects, connecting further with volunteers, and becoming a better environmental advocate. The leadership and communication skills I have gained from this position will surely be an asset to my future career and aspirations.

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