AU Facilities creates internship opportunities for students
New initiative in partnership with Smithsonian Gardens encourages community involvement
According to AU’s Academic Profile on its website, 95 percent of undergraduate students participate in at least one internship while at AU. AU Facilities have decided to tap into that market by offering unique paid internships to students.
The internships range from groundskeeping to managing social media and composting. The students are paid D.C. minimum wage of $13.25 and are called interns, even though they are actually part-time workers.
Tyler Orton, Zero Waste manager and leader of facilities management, currently has the most interns at AU Facilities. He has eight students working on a new composting program with a student supervisor for the Zero Waste Project. Orton’s interns do project-based work that he believes is beneficial for students to learn.
“I’ve always managed projects, and I think a lot of students come out of school without an opportunity to actually get involved in a project,” Orton said. “In the sustainability world, we talk a lot about these theories and how they work, but when you get in practice and you get to implement something, you learn it in a totally different way.”
Jesse Cross, a freshman studying environmental science, said he met Orton at a Zero Waste Club meeting. Orton offered Cross a paid internship to manage composting on campus along with seven other students, and Cross agreed.
As self-described “glorified garbage men,” Cross and his fellow interns work behind the scenes at different food vendors around campus to ensure that food waste is correctly sectioned off to be composted. Most of the waste that is composted comes from the preparation and processing of food before it is served to the consumer.
“I work a lot with campus food vendors to collect their food waste and make sure it is not contaminated or that anything is put into the [trash] compactor,” said Cross.
AU Facilities engaged with students for Campus Beautification Day on April 9, an AU tradition that has taken place on campus for the past 26 years. Students, faculty and staff had the opportunity to participate in projects, which included putting sodding on the quad, planting trees, shrubs, annual flowers, perennials and a green roof on the Mary Graydon Center.
AU Facilities is also planning on adding another student internship program called the Learning by Leading Program. Stephanie Destefano, the AU grounds operations manager, was inspired to implement the program at AU after attending an American Public Gardens conference in California last summer.
The program was originally established at the University of California, Davis and it allows students to intern at the UC Davis public garden and arboretum. In the AU program, students will have the opportunity to work in the gardens at the Smithsonian.
Destefano said people at the conference noticed the lack of interest and willingness of students to work at botanical gardens, arboretums and in horticultural fields. She hopes that the program will give students experience and inspire them to pursue a potential career in the field.
“It is meant to empower the student and hopefully develop future leaders and future people that are going to go into green jobs, and not particularly public gardens, but also in environmental jobs in general, to make people more aware that these jobs exist,” Destefano said.
Cynthia Brown, the manager of collection, management and education at the Smithsonian, attended the conference with Destefano and will be acting as the liaison between AU students and the Smithsonian. Brown wanted to expose students to the world of greenery by offering them the opportunity to intern at the Smithsonian.
“Even if your major isn’t horticulture, you might be interested in seeing how you can make a difference in green spaces, learning about what green spaces offer to the public and maybe you just want to see one of the coolest ways of saving the world,” Brown said.
The program is expected to start in the fall and students of all majors are welcome to apply. The number of students needed for the program and the specific Smithsonian gardens that will be part of the program has not been determined yet.