A good summer internship can be a life changing experience

Chongyang DuThe summer of 2011 is definitely one of the best summers in my life so far which deserves to be put in my history book.

I was working at Dogwood Alliance as a research intern studying the health impact of woody biomass power generation. The reasons I choose to apply for this position are first, as a graduate student from Duke University with concentration on Energy & Environment, I would like to know more about energy industry and popular topics in this field by doing research work, and biomass fuel is absolutely one of the hottest topics in the US in the recent years; second, even though I have done much research work since undergraduate study, I used to be in charge of supporting work for the entire project doing data collection or literature review, however, this position provides me the opportunity to study a topic highly independently which is very challenging but also means I can have a general picture of conducting solo research. Now, at the very end of my 11-week internship, I have to say I am glad that I made a sound decision to work here which is an amazing life changing experience.

For me, a job cannot be a good one without delightful work environment, and Dogwood Alliance which is located in downtown Asheville is a quiet, convenient and comfortable place to work in. I always enjoyed the regular meetings for all the stuff and interns on every Monday morning. People share the exciting things happening in life and progress on their work. I believe this kind of communication is crucial to improve the interdepartmental cooperation as well as team building. As a beautiful tourism city, Asheville is surrounded by many wonderful hiking, swimming and biking spots, especially in summer. I spent most of my free time trying good food, hiking and watching shows. In these experiences I met some lifelong friends and a number of them are also working on environmental issues.

My research work this summer focused on the health impact of woody biomass power generation. Wood is considered by many people as a “clean” “renewable” and “sustainable” alternative energy source to replace coal and even natural gas to generate electricity. However, burning wood for energy will lead to emissions of air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, particulate matters, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and other toxic air pollutants which have been proven by many organizations to arouse heart and lung disease, and even cancers. Woody biomass power generation can also result in more greenhouse gases emissions and deforestation, because the explosive biomass fuel development makes it unlikely to meet the demand of biomass power industry just by using wood wastes and wood residues. Actually some power plants have already used whole tree chips to generate electricity which will put severe pressure on forests. More research needs to be conducted to make sound policy on biomass energy. However, EPA announced in July 2011 that they will give a three-year exemption for biomass energy industry during which time they will do more work to prove the feasibility of woody biomass power generation. This decision may lead to more investment on biomass energy industry and cause high health risks and greenhouse gases emissions.

After this summer’s independent research, I know more about energy issues and got familiar and confident with research process involving literature review, data collection and report writing. Moreover, the experience of working in a non-profit organization helps me understand how non-profit organizations work and which kind of skill sets are needed. More importantly, my interests on energy issues especially energy policy are highly motivated which is a perfect supplement with the coursework in school.

In all, I had a great experience working in Dogwood Alliance with Campaign Director Scot Quaranda. I appreciate all his help and instructions which definitely have a positive influence on setting my career goal and obtain skills for working in non-profit organizations. I hope more people can know the excellent work of Dogwood Alliance on protecting Southern forests and support this outstanding organization.

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