EcoStudio matches Tar Heels with internships

Since 2018, the program has helped 466 students explore careers in environment and sustainability.

A student interviewing a person on camera. Both are standing outside.
Abby Overby (left) has been able to apply classroom knowledge into her work as a stormwater education intern. “I feel like I'm getting a stronger understanding of what I'm learning in class because I'm able to apply it,” she said. (Jess Abel/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Like many of her fellow Tar Heels, environmental studies major Abby Overby turned to EcoStudio when searching for a sustainability-related internship. This semester, she is a residential stormwater education intern with the Town of Carrboro, creating a documentary to help Carrboro residents understand the town’s ongoing stormwater management improvement.

“It’s been really cool to find connections between what I’m learning in class and this job,” she said.

EcoStudio helps match Carolina undergraduate students of all majors with environmentally focused, client-based internships at local and national organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Triangle Land Conservancy and Patagonia.

Founded in spring 2018, the program is a partnership among the Institute for the Environment, the institute’s Center for Public Engagement with Science and the College of Arts and Sciences’ environment, ecology and energy program. To date, EcoStudio has matched 466 Tar Heels with internships.

‘A stronger understanding’

Her EcoStudio internship lets Overby, a Carrboro resident, connect with her neighbors and local government and dive into science communications. “I feel like I’m getting a stronger understanding of what I’m learning in class because I’m able to apply it.”

Overby said the encouragement from other EcoStudio interns is one of her favorite aspects of the semester. “We’ve all formed this support system, this network of people that we know we can rely on, count on and check in with for inspiration.”

This opportunity for experiential learning in the field coupled with peer-to-peer learning in the classroom was exactly what its founders had in mind.

“We have a mix of students, from first-years all the way up to seniors,” said EcoStudio co-director Brian Naess, geographic information system analyst and lecturer at the institute. He co-founded the EcoStudio program with Jaye Cable, senior associate dean for natural sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Preparing for life after graduation

Another component of the program is professional development, offered through meetings, workshops and other resources. “We look at resumés and cover letters, we do a mock interview session, we look at their LinkedIn,” said Megan Lane, EcoStudio co-director and public science and internship coordinator for the institute’s Center for Public Engagement with Science.

By the end of the semester, students have everything they need to tackle their job searches with confidence.

“It’s such a terrific way to get real-world experience at an internship. It prepares you for life after Carolina and gives you a great window into the environmental space,” said Will Nichols, an Honors Carolina and Luther Hodges Scholar senior with majors in environmental studies and business administration. His EcoStudio internship with the Ackerman Center for Excellence in Sustainability focused on sustainable textiles. Nichols also runs a nonprofit, SolarEquity, that seeks to empower North Carolina communities through the solarization of affordable housing.

Mentors pay it forward

EcoStudio’s emphasis on collaboration also takes the form of mentorship. Viktor Agabekov ’18, was part of EcoStudio’s first cohort of student interns.

“It was a very open environment to try techniques that are very commonplace in the professional world but, at the time as a student, were new to me,” said Agabekov, who worked for Sustainable Carolina, an EcoStudio partner, and was able to pay the experience forward as a mentor for current students.

His advice to student interns is to be bold, ask questions and embrace the flexibility that comes with being in an academic environment.

“It’s a point in life where you have enough of a structure around you as a student that you can try new things,” said Agabekov. “And if you don’t like it, then you can do something else.”