December 11, 2009

The last summer-Reflections from an undergraduate intern

Published in: Envision Minnesota, Newsletter of 1000 Friends of Minnesota -Fall 2009

By Ashley Ver Burg

As Minnesotans, we all feel the excitement that comes with the last snow bank melting away and the first 70 degree day; summer is on its way, bringing evening barbeques with friends and weekends up north at the lake. Each year, warmth and rain drops sneak back into our lives, and we all can appreciate the change of pace. While this time of year is simply a change in seasons to most working adults, summer has an entirely different meaning to students across the state. For us, summer signifies a three month break from chaotic routines of class, homework and commitments. Summer is a time to do exactly what we want: enjoy time with friends, read books we don’t have to, make money for school and live in the moment. As a junior undergraduate at the College of Saint Benedict, I was fully aware that 2009 would mark my last summer as I knew it. Luckily, during the spring of ‘09, I landed a Jackson Fellowship from St. Ben’s that allowed me to complete a summer internship with civic engagement components. So I began my search for the perfect place to spend my last summer, and it was not an easy task. As an environmental studies major looking to experience the nonprofit sector, I was astonished by the quality of environmental nonprofits in the state. My mind was spinning with possibilities, while sunshine and hummingbirds were quickly approaching. Then I came across 1000 Friends of Minnesota as I was doing research for a class on the Building Sensible Communities bill, and John Bailey’s work prompted me to research the organization. I was impressed. 1000 Friends of Minnesota was working toward everything I believed in, and I wanted to join the efforts. After a phone conversation and two meetings with Lakes Region Program Director Phil Hunsicker, I knew exactly where I wanted to spend my last summer.

From the end of May to the beginning of August, I spent my days working alongside Phil in the Brainerd office to “help Minnesota grow without wrecking the place.” This took the tangible form of developing conservation design scorecard outreach and education materials and jumpstarting a “Voices for the Lakes” essay contest.

I had the opportunity to work with groups like the Crow Wing County Lakes and Rivers Alliance, the Brainerd Area Environmental Learning Network and the North Central Lakes Collaborative, which taught me an extraordinary amount about the environmental efforts being made in Minnesota. In particular, the Community Growth Options program struck me as a significant contribution to helping Minnesota manage its growth, and Randall Arendt’s visit in June sticks out as an exceptionally impactful summer highlight. The experience I gained this last summer could not have been better, and the insight shared by 1000 Friends of Minnesota staff proved to be invaluable. In the end, I learned the power of altruistic dedication and sincere relationship building. If you are devoted to your work and invest in the people around you, then you can spend all your days doing exactly what you want to do. With this knowledge, I return to St. Ben’s for my senior year of college, and I look forward to savoring another year leading up to the melting of a last snow bank and a first 70 degree day. For 2009 marked not my last summer, but my first summer doing exactly what I want to do.