SLS recently wrapped up the 2nd summer of our internship program.  This year, we matched 27 interns with partner organizations—some of which are old friends of SLS’s, such as Partnership for Southern Equity, Southface, and the City of Atlanta.  Others were new to the internship program this summer, such as PlantLanta (described below in intern Jessica Copenhaver’s post), ParkPride, and the four communities who hosted student interns as part of the Georgia Smart Communities Initiative—Savannah, Chamblee, Albany, and Gwinnett. Below you’ll find the reflections of four interns from this summer’s cohort.  They describe their very different experiences working on, respectively, an oral history project in Coffee County, a food access map for the City of Atlanta, a major event for a local grassroots organization, and community work to combat climate change and sea level rise. We invite any interested students (and partners!)  to visit our internship program page to learn more about past internships and how to apply/ submit projects for next summer!


Brice Minix, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Coffee County Oral History Project

Project Description: We worked on developing and archiving new information relative to the events and personal stories that led to the integration of public schools in Coffee County. We interviewed people in the community who lived through the time periods of segregation, Freedom of Choice, and integration, and we digitized photos, newspaper articles, school annuals, and Board minutes.

Throughout my time as an intern, I learned how to more effectively communicate with others in order to organize tasks and meetings and gain important information. Often, my fellow SLS intern, Nabil, and I worked on our own, far from our supervisors. It was necessary that we communicated clearly via email and phone with our supervisors in order to keep them updated on our progress, receive new tasks to complete, and stay productive. From the beginning of our internship, we were taught good interviewing tips in order to gain the most details from those who are willing to contribute to our oral history. We learned the power that a combination of silence and good listening has in getting people to reveal as many details as possible about a relevant topic of discussion, and we learned how to repeat certain points and simply ask for elaboration in order to gain any additional desired information. We had to correspond with a diverse selection of people in order to set up interviews and hear a variety of points of view. I feel that the ability to communicate effectively, digitally and in person, with diverse points of view in order to gain the greatest amount of information will definitely serve me well in my future professional life as an engineer.

One achievement during this internship that I’m proud of is successfully organizing all of the intact newspaper editions at our local newspaper, The Douglas Enterprise, from 1938 through 2016 on our first day on the job apart from our supervisors. In order to easily be able to go through relevant newspaper articles for our research, we first had to take note of which newspaper editions we could easily look through in person simultaneously. The editions were largely scattered throughout the office with fairly inconsistent forms of organization, but we gathered them all and put them in chronological order in one location within the office, making it much easier to find important newspaper articles related to the public schools’ integration and other important events. Completing this task got us off to a great start for the rest of the work to be done throughout the summer.

In order to get the most out of this job, you should remain curious and diligent, and most importantly, you should always listen carefully.

Chelsea Zakas, MS, City and Regional Planning
City of Atlanta, Aglanta

Project Description: Worked with Atlanta's Food Systems Planner to update Atlanta's Food Access Map. The map shows where food deserts are located as well as fresh food access points.

Interning at the City of Atlanta taught me about working in the public sector, for a city government. Going into this internship, and even still, I’ve been unsure of whether I want to go into the public sector, the private sector, or the non-profit sector after I graduate. Working for the city over the summer gave me hands on experience for what it’s like to work for a city government – how relationships across different departments work, the importance of community engagement, how to handle community pushback, the joy felt when something goes right (haha).

I was very lucky this summer to have had such a great relationship with my boss, Elizabeth Beak. Throughout the internship she was always very supportive and understanding. I would tell friends over the summer how great she was, and I would laugh and say “I better not get used to this! I know it’s not like this in the real world.” Then recently, a friend of mine said “No, you should get used to that. You have standards now, and you know what a boss/employee relationship could be.” I had not thought of it that way before, but they were totally right. Now, while on my career path, I do have a standard on how I should be treated as an employee, and that is with respect and kindness.

At the beginning of the summer I was assigned one task, update Atlanta’s Food Access Map. I am proud to say I finished the map, and I came up with all the numbers that both Elizabeth and Mario will need in order to push for a new policy to allow farm stands to operate on farm sites throughout the city, but most importantly in low income low access area where people are far away from grocery stores, but near farms.

Advice I would give to the next intern in my shoes is – take notes, always write things down, keep a google doc of notes on everything. Make a to-do list to help you keep track of tasks that you are expected to complete. Be organized and be open and communicative with your boss and others in the office.

Jessica Copenhaver, Public Policy

This summer I worked as an event planning intern for Plantlanta–a nonprofit organization that develops initiatives to engage young adults in the overall sustainability of their metropolitan-Atlanta community. For all of our events, Plantlanta relied on partnerships with event hosts (encompassing the greenspace or venue where we held the event), nonprofits involved with sustainable food production, and volunteering individuals. Since I was heavily involved in coordinating with these partners throughout all events, I soon learned how important building and maintaining a network of diverse individuals is to professional growth. Even our smaller “Plantlanta Volunteer Day” events would not have been possible without the organizations and individuals that looked to grow with Plantlanta.

 Due to experience-driven trust and a feeling of shared purpose between these stakeholders and my organization, we were able to amplify the impact the events had on Atlanta’s community–and it’s this trust and communal effort that I want to bring into my professional endeavors.For example, in this photo from our June Plantlanta Volunteer Day, you can see a group of people with a variety of reasons to help the Lake Claire Land Trust [maintain] their outdoor-space, that were united as a network by the desire to preserve Atlanta’s communal greenspaces–a desire that Plantlanta was able to foster and utilize to grow as a nonprofit. In addition to exposure to these networking tools, my internship has allowed me to experience directing a major event. This event–a VR showing of the documentary “This is Climate Change” accompanied by a panel of climate change experts–was Plantlanta’s biggest event to date, and I am proud to say that was heavily involved in the outreach, planning, marketing, and operation of the event. However, I learned one lesson from planning this event that any Plantlanta intern should know–don’t be afraid to reach out to companies and the academic world for help creating the best event possible, usually they are more than willing if you just ask!

Kate Ferencsik, Psychology

GA SMART - Chatham County/Savannah

Probably the most informative lesson I learned through my internship was the absolute importance of listening first in community engagement . . . [my organization] emphasized how important it is to form lasting relationships with community members and organizations and to include their input throughout the entire process.  The achievement that I am proudest of through my internship was being able to offer tangible advocacy tools, documents and plans to a community who had been largely neglected and exhausted. The community with which our work focused, Hudson Hill (within Savannah, Ga) is surrounded by a variety of different industries and has been identified as significantly vulnerable to climate change and other hazards. We were able to finally give residents and supporting organizations tools that they could use to advocate for this community to enhance their resilience. [My advice to future interns is] to spend as much of their time as possible engaging with and hearing the stories of the community members with which they are working because they will learn more from those experiences than any others.

The SLS Internship Program was also recently featured in a Daily Digest article.  CLICK HERE to read more.