Soccer, Mapping and Dogwood Alliance

Guest post by Siyu Qin, a Duke Stanback Intern for Dogwood Alliance

As a 24-year old professional degree candidate, I suppose it’s pretty unusual that I am actually doing my first ever internship. Being excited and somewhat nervous, I brought my suits and high-heels with me. Well, it turned out that I worried too much. The city is so Bohemian, which means literally everyone is more casual than you might be; and luckily Dogwood Alliance cares more about your performance than your appearance.

Siyu playing in the water
Siyu playing in the water

The casual working atmosphere, however, doesn’t affect the professionalism of the work at all. I sat in the office next to the Campaign Director and Communications Director, and everyday I could hear them talking about the Our Forests Aren’t Fuel campaign. I could definitely hear the enthusiasm for their work in their voices, which matched their enthusiasm for the US soccer team in the World Cup.

Though all staff weren’t as interested in the World Cup as we were, everyone was very nice and helpful. My internship started with a series of face-to-face talks with each of the staff members, where I learned about their roles and responsibilities in the organization. It helped me to understand how nonprofit organizations work within themselves and out in the world. This also helped me get to know all the passionate environmentalists and with their friendly personalities who work at Dogwood. You’ll never find a poker face at Dogwood…well, probably except for maybe the technician…

I was the technician. I created maps to present the current projects of Dogwood Alliance as well as the scale and severity of environmental problems that Dogwood Alliance is working on. I also conducted spatial analysis to identify potential parcels to develop new Carbon Canopy projects as well as forests with high conservation value. It was a great experience to get the opportunity to integrate knowledge and skills learnt in classroom along with real world problem solving. Mapping projects in a real working environment is different from what I did for my course project at Duke. I was given all the data I needed to complete my course project at Duke, but for my Dogwood internship, I had to look for the data. Sometimes I even had to search to figure out what data I needed to look for. I was joking with my supervisor that I was supposed to spend my summer with ArcGIS, but it turned out, I spent it with Google, Google Maps and Gmail.

It was very interesting and inspiring to find the large amount of work that has been done on mapping this planet’s environmental conditions and natural resources as well as how much other organizations and government departments were willing to help me on my project. On the other hand, I had to keep in mind that all this information isn’t necessarily accurate. Some of them are able to be corrected, e.g. the geocoding process might use the PO Box instead of the actual address to draw the point on the map. Some of them you have to tolerate and work with, e.g. the vegetation type assigned to a pixel might be the most likely one based on the satellite image taken 10 years ago, which can be totally different from what it actually is right now. Therefore, I had to learn to accept the non-perfect but useful result and to make the most of current available resources.

A benefit for environmental organization employee (especially those living in Asheville, North Carolina) is that, after hours of staring at the screen, you always get the chance to dive into the green. Into the mountains! We drove through the gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway and visited the standing forests managed under the Carbon Canopy project as well as the clear giggling streams filtered by the forests. After a trip to Columbia Forest Products, I even got a piece of paulownia (a tree from my home country of China) plywood as a souvenir.

Other than work, I also had a lot of fun in Beer City USA with the nice people I met. I have decided to keep all the experiences of watching the World Cup, Ziplining, a butterfly trip and Downtown After Five in my private blog so that people won’t think I was just having a vacation here in Asheville! In case you’re really interested in the fun I had in Asheville after working hours, visit me in Durham for an “Asheville Rocks!” talk. 🙂

Working with Dogwood Alliance was an amazing experience! (Did I mention that they celebrate interns’ birthday there?) As a final conclusion for the 11 weeks, I would say: I learned, I helped, I enjoyed. I appreciate the internship opportunity very much, not only because of its adding to my professional resume, but also because it affected the way I interact with the world and with my inner self. It encouraged a future environmental professional on her first step of her career path.

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