As I reflect on my time with the Dane County Office of Energy and Climate Change (OECC), I can’t help but think about my first physical day on the job; I dressed in outdoor attire and wore gardening gloves at a tree planting event. I now see that it was telling of what the rest of my experience would look like at OECC. That is, jumping right into a problem, and getting my hands dirty to come up with solutions.
A few days later, I jumped into securing the cohort of 2023 Climate champions and related logistics. This was our fourth year of the program, and we had already named over 150 local entities as champions. I worried we had already recognized most of the entities around the county who were dipping their toes (or entire legs, for that matter) into tackling the challenge of climate change. Persistent outreach, research on potential candidates, and staying in touch with old candidates helped us double the initial goal for 2023 and name 39 Climate Champions! Shaking the hands of contacts I had been emailing back and forth for months was such a rewarding way to conclude this project for me. I vividly remember the drive home from our September celebration – my stomach was full of snacks and treats, and all I could think about was how lucky I was to kick start my career in a community so dedicated to climate action.
My time with The Tree Canopy Collaborative (TCC) holds a special place in my heart because their mission to allow all people to equally reap the benefits of trees is incredibly important. I was fortunate to gain experience in project planning and GIS mapping. TCC partners such as CARPC and Urban Tree Alliance welcomed me warmly to sit in on calls to absorb information and offer up my opinions.
The next project I want to touch on represents the diversity of my internship experience. OECC set out to film a video about Dane County achieving 100% clean electricity for all county government operations via recent solar installations. Not only did I get to meet Krishna and Akanksha, two local high school seniors whose passion for the environment has led them to incredible work in the community, I also got to experience the inner workings of a video shoot with a talented film crew.
Throughout my time with OECC, I attended and tabled countless community outreach events and conferences, where I was able to engage with Dane County in a way I never would have otherwise. In 2021, I stepped foot in Wisconsin for the first time to attend UW-Madison, and I barely left the city until I accepted this position. My favorite memory of all community events was the Environmental Fun Fair at the Lussier Heritage Center. Mel, Kathy, and I spent lots of time pondering a summer activity that would be informative for kids, yet most importantly engaging and low-waste. We came up with a Solar Oven, where we could demonstrate the power of solar energy while indulging children in melted chocolate on strawberries and pretzels. It was such a hit that we ran out of supplies and repeated the activity at a future event. I was even interviewed by a news station at the end of the fair!
When I accepted this position, I knew I would get my hands dirty in lengthy spreadsheets, writing and editing, reading through long formal documents, and email communications. Did I ever expect to gain experience in website development? Certainly not. But, that is something I have appreciated most about this office. There are no limits to the things we set our minds to. When we decided our Inflation Reduction Act webpages needed to be updated, our immediate response was “we can figure this out”, rather than “who can we ask to do this for us?”. After all, Mel and Kathy are the IRA experts, so doing these updates on our own was important to ensure clarity. Although it may take me twice as long as any computer expert, I can now say with confidence that I figured out how to navigate the basic inner workings of a content management system (with lots of help along the way, of course). Thank you, OECC, for pushing me to approach challenges confidently in my ability to overcome them.
I'm sad to say goodbye to my incredible team members Kathy, Mel, and Sara who have made the past 8 months exciting and so much fun. I am grateful that this experience bolstered my confidence in my ability to grow into the climate action leader I dream of becoming. The diverse skills I’ve gained have pushed me through the door to new opportunities in the sustainability field, where I look forward to applying what I’ve learned and adding to my climate knowledge repertoire. Best of luck to our new intern Isabella, great things lay ahead!
Kate is a junior at UW-Madison who is passionate about exploring the intersection of climate action and various stakeholders such as local businesses. She is pursuing degrees in Marketing and Management and is working towards a certificate in Sustainability. Kate is looking forward to learning more about developing strong campaign strategies such as the Climate Action Plan.
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