Ohio State interns help university meet sustainability goals
Internships help students build skills transferable to workforce
Students are helping The Ohio State University reach its sustainability goals.
Students participating in the university’s Sustainability Internship Program are not only helping the university reduce waste and increase operational efficiency, they’re learning skills that have helped them in their coursework and are preparing them to enter the workforce.
Interns Reva Baste-Bania, Lexi Capka, Logan Gould, Maya Hammond, Mackenzie Hebert and Karissa Mitchell recently spoke about their work during a presentation with Ohio State’s Facilities Operations and Development administrators.
Mitchell, Hammond, Capka and Gould, who are majoring in Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability, said they developed an interest in environmental conservation at a young age by spending time in nature. Prior to enrolling at Ohio State, they initiated projects such as encouraging classmates and staff at their schools to recycle and providing information about how to become environmental stewards.
Through the Sustainability Internship Program, the interns are identifying solutions for difficult-to-recycle items such as hardcover books and plastic wrap, seeking strategies for streamlining data and asset management practices, and installing recycling and compost bins in buildings throughout the Columbus campus, among other tasks.
Hammond said she and other interns who have been assigned to Ohio State’s Zero Waste Program have helped expand university-wide food composting from 39 to 120 buildings.
“We started in the dorms and then we did it in all of the cafés and places that serve food,” Hammond said. “That is a really hefty task because this campus is huge. As interns, we literally load up the truck with the bins, we put them together and we distribute them.”
The interns have also installed signs on the recycling and compost bins with information about how to use them, such as listing items that can and can’t be recycled or composted. The interns said studies they conducted indicate that the easy-to-follow instructions have increased recycling and reduced contamination.
“We’re keeping track of how many bins are in each building,” Gould said. “With all this data, we are trying to consolidate the distribution of bins that can decrease the cost and amount of plastic liners being used.”
Capka’s work has included researching sustainability initiatives at other Big Ten universities and compiling data for Ohio State staff to compare with the university’s goals. She has also conducted energy audits for various buildings.
“I’ve been working on energy and water use targets,” she said. “I’ve been creating benchmarking and reference numbers for all the buildings on campus based off of our building standards.”
Mitchell said she has gained valuable experience by starting as an intern in the Zero Waste Program and transitioning to the Wexner Medical Center. Her work includes helping medical center staff analyze how to reduce waste while maintaining patient safety, as well as community outreach.
“We actually looked at density maps for our patients in central Ohio and their relationship to the landfills,” Mitchell said. “Landfills are usually placed in lower income areas or vulnerable areas. Our message to our staff is we need to pay special attention to this because [patients in vulnerable areas] are at risk already and we need to be making an effort to divert our waste as much as possible.”
By participating in the Sustainability Internship Program, the students said they have acquired skills that they can apply in future jobs.
“Being a Zero Waste intern has given me a hands-on experience that I couldn’t have gotten in the classroom. I got a lot of experience with data management,” Gould said. “It’s been a great experience learning data management at an organization as large as Ohio State.”
Capka also said data management is one of the skills she has acquired, especially mastering Smartsheet, a complex software program.
“It helped me with problem solving,” she said. “I was working by myself, pretty much, and didn't have help from anybody else. And I was still able to figure out a lot of it – more than I thought.”
The interns said they also acquired communication skills.
“I have had to learn what a million different [medical] instruments are,” Mitchell said. “I have no training, but I was still able to talk to people that have that training and have that background and explain to them why [sustainability] is important. I think all of the interns across the university have become incredibly good at meeting people where they are and trying to explain our side of it.”
Hammond said she has furthered her public speaking skills. She has been a guest speaker at a meeting for residence hall directors and campus clubs. She also recently spoke at the Ohio Natural History Society and Worthington Kilbourne High School’s Sustainability Club.
“I talked to students about pursuing sustainability in college and the wide scope of career opportunities available to them,” Hammond said. “Many parents are unaware of this sheer growth in this field and that if their child has an interest in sustainability, they can find a reliable, good-paying job.”