My time with the Sierra Club has gone so quickly and it’s hard to believe it’s wrapping up in the next few weeks. Through my various meetings with Sierra Club staff and volunteers, independent projects, and legislative analysis, I have gained invaluable knowledge about environmental advocacy. One of my key takeaways is how extremely controversial environmental policies are in Pennsylvania. The hearings that I attended this summer for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, climate change impacts in PA, pipeline development, and other environmental topics were very divisive. Unfortunately in Pennsylvania, this lack of willingness to compromise has led to frustrating lobbying meetings and few recent victories for the Sierra Club. However, I’ve learned from my supervisor that this work requires you to stay in the fight for the long run—celebrating small victories along the way and caring for yourself to avoid burnout are important for careers in environmental policy.
This internship experience also taught me the importance of teamwork and collaboration in driving social change. The PA Sierra Club is a small team with staff members located across the state, yet I was continually impressed with how successfully the group worked together online. Our staff calls were always energetic and supportive, and their strategies for executing long-term campaigns are quite effective. The endurance, emphasis on self-care, and teamwork/communication skills that I learned during my internship will serve me well back at Pitt. As I continue to learn about environmental issues—which can feel overwhelming at times—I will practice adopting a positive perspective and lean on my peers for support. Additionally, I will delegate tasks and create long-term plans, as I observed Sierra Club staff do, in my college group projects and club activities.
As a result of this internship and my new insight into political lobbying, I have narrowed my future career pathway. I was strongly considering law school prior to this internship, but am leaning away from this option now. I’m more interested in environmental consulting after pursuing a master’s in energy policy. I enjoyed my lobbying work with the Sierra Club, but found myself often extremely frustrated by the roadblocks posed by political division. While I’m open to working for a government environmental agency, I’m unsure if I want to be as involved with legal complexities. Community organizing and education are other aspects of environmental policy that interest me more and that I’d like to continue as a professional. Conversations with my supervisor about opportunities such as the Peace Corps, National Park Service, and graduate school abroad were beneficial as I decide what to do following graduation.
From this internship experience, I grew both personally and as a young environmental advocate. I honed my research, analysis, writing, and communication skills, all of which will serve me well throughout my remaining years in school and beyond. Furthermore, I improved my networking abilities by chatting individually with Sierra Club staff, meeting legislators and staff at other environmental nonprofits, and writing pieces such as a letter to the editor of my local newspaper and a blog post. Perhaps more importantly, I gained confidence in my abilities to conduct environmental organizing work, such as phone banking and giving presentations about my independent projects. I was most surprised by my personal growth in the areas of communication and self-assurance, and look forward to utilizing these skills to continue my advocacy work.