Government internship, round 2

charles-zhouThis post is part of a series about my summer internship. For background, please see the first post.

Three summers ago, I interned in Washington, D.C. and it’s probably the reason I’m writing this blog post as a public health student. Science had always been a forte and a singular focus of mine. A summer in D.C. made me realize that policy is another channel through which I could change the world. Upon returning, I changed my major and abandoned the idea of medical school.

For those of you unfamiliar with Capitol Hill internships: the positions are unpaid, there’s a lot of mundane office work like sorting mail and answering phones, and interns are outranked by high school Pages, a very prestigious and competitive (not to mention compensated) program. However, I learned a lot about a wide range of policy areas, including energy and environment, and I really did love the experience.

Imagine my surprise when I found out I had my own cubicle this summer. And didn’t have to share computers with other interns. And didn’t have to make sure the addresses on a thousand form letters were formatted correctly (this happened once or twice a week). Oh, and I’m getting paid, but that’s just the cherry on top!

One of my roles is to support the communications team. This includes working on the email newsletter and providing ideas for web content, advertisements, and infographics. This is where the scientist inside me gets to shine. Thanks to the life cycle assessment course at SPH, I have a good understanding of the interaction between transportation of goods, fuel, and carbon emissions. The tough aspect of choosing what to include in the infographic is what an average reader will be able to understand, and on top of this, the audience has to be considered. Just because I know what a ton-mile is doesn’t mean somebody who sees the infographic will, unless that person works in the freight transport industry.

I also work with SmartWay affiliates, organizations (industry groups, nonprofits, etc.) and businesses (dealerships, leasing companies, and truck stops) that support and encourage participation in the program, by educating members and customers or selling SmartWay technologies. My main project this summer (which I’m happy to say is a week ahead of schedule) is to produce a best practices document for our 200-plus affiliate groups. I’m in the process of interviewing several successful affiliates and identifying common themes revealed during these interviews.

To me, an amazing thing about SmartWay is that it can bring together such diverse people and groups. Of course, their goals are different. Some join the program for the fuel savings, some for the environmental and health benefits, and some to demonstrate corporate social responsibility. Arguably more amazing is that SmartWay works with an industry that wouldn’t be considered friends with EPA by anybody’s standards, and huge players in the freight transport industry happily participate in this voluntary public-private partnership.

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