My internship as a climate activist

Stephanie Fernandez Feature

Name: Gabriela Rodriguez

Major: Environmental studies, sustainability and the environment

Where are you interning? I am interning at the CLEO Institute. The CLEO Institute is a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to climate change education, awareness and advocacy.

What do you do there? I am a program intern helping to develop and launch a new program focused on bringing climate education to public high schools around Miami-Dade County, with a focus on schools that are underserved. I carry out the outreach and communications of this pilot program and help with the educational material and execution of the program. I also help with CLEO’s youth advocacy program, which supports a strong group of local students in climate activism.

How did you get your internship? I got my internship by volunteering at CLEO’s annual climate change symposium. While working at this event, I spoke to the founder of CLEO about myself, my passions and my aspirations — and was offered this opportunity on the spot. Elevator pitches matter!

What projects are you working on? The “project” I am working on is CLEO’s new program, “Climate Resilient Schools,” which aims to increase climate literacy in students across Miami-Dade County. Because Miami is “ground zero” for climate change; with rising seas and intensifying hurricanes, it is vital that we have a student body that understands the urgency of climate change and feels empowered to do something for climate action. The program also focuses on students attending underserved schools, which is an incredibly important part of this project because of the disproportionate effect’s climate change has on our frontline communities. I am also helping with CLEO’s youth advocacy program, “GenCLEO,” where we support local students with the information and tools they need to mobilize for local climate action.

How does your internship connect back to your coursework? My Honors College coursework was all centered around the environment, and my internship focuses on climate change, the ultimate environmental problem. My Honors courses made me understand the environmental issues I had been learning on a more global perspective. Especially with my study abroad in Costa Rica, I not only saw how pervasive environmental issues are, but also how beneficial environmental education and communications are to solve these issues. These ideas are at the heart of my internship.

What is the coolest thing about your internship or that has happened during your internship? I was invited to attend a “Climate Emergency Training” in Boston because of my internship. For an entire weekend, I traveled with three other youth climate activists from Miami to attend this training. We learned about how to mobilize climate action in your city, while also being tourists in Boston. The trip kickstarted my climate activism, and now we have had multiple municipalities in Miami declare a climate emergency.

What do you like most about your experience? There are two main things about my internship that I am in love with: (1) the impact of the work we are doing as an organization and (2) the team I work with. Climate change is a scary, existential problem, but through our efforts we are educating the public to not be scared, but to instead be empowered to change and act. We also focus our work on communities of less wealth in Miami and that is very inspiring to me as someone that values social justice. In addition, I work with a staff of only women, surprisingly. The women I work with are the most dedicated, supportive, passionate group of people I have worked with. They come from all different ages and backgrounds, making our team so interesting and dynamic. I simply love the people I work with.

What have you learned about yourself? I have learned a lot about myself through this internship because it is the first “real” internship I have had at a renowned organization. The most important thing I have learned, though, is that I do not have limits. I used to say no to things because I felt like I didn’t have time or couldn’t do it well. Through this internship, I’ve learned to say yes to everything that excites me, and, if it is difficult, I’ll figure it out and learn. As a full-time science student, it is tiring to balance this internship with school, but it is so worth it because the work I do genuinely excites me. I have learned to take opportunities and run with them.

How has the position increased your professional confidence? It has increased my professional confidence immensely. I am much more understanding and confident of my interests and aspirations. I can even see the confidence boost when I introduce myself and/or pitch my ideas. I think this is because I am in a position that I love and I am surrounded by a very supportive group.

How have you expanded your professional network? My professional network has also expanded greatly. I am meeting new people every day and building relationships that could be beneficial in the future. For example, I have come into contact with Mayor Francis Suarez, Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, John Morales, and more. The founder of CLEO, Caroline Lewis, has been someone I’ve looked up to for quite some time, and now I work on her team.

How has it help you prove yourself in the “real-world?” Through this internship, I have been able to apply my skills in environmental education and outreach and consequently, “prove myself.” As a result of feedback and praise, I have become more confident in my place in the “real-world.” However, I think what has really boosted my ability to “prove myself” is seeing the impact CLEO’s work has on the community. The positive impact reminds me that what I am doing has significance in this world.

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process? Apply for an internship that genuinely excites you. Master your elevator pitch. Be confident when you introduce yourself. Take every opportunity an internship position will throw at you – even if you’re not sure if you can do it perfectly. Because I have begun to realize and apply these ideas, I have excelled in my internship, made great contacts and have been given more exciting projects to work on.

 

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