‘This is my home:’ student gives back to Chapel Hill

As a Town Council intern, rising junior Daniel Bowen is making his adopted hometown of Chapel Hill a better place to live.

Student and supervisor discuss policy documents at table
Daniel Bowen (right) meets with Ross Tompkins, assistant to the town manager, to discuss Chapel Hill's sustainability initiative.

Chapel Hill isn’t Daniel Bowen’s hometown, but it is his home.

When the rising junior first arrived at Carolina from Florida, he knew this place was special.

“I applied to colleges all over the country — in California, New York, North Carolina — but coming to UNC’s campus, I really loved it,” he said. “There are a lot of people here, but somehow it still feels like yours. You do get a sense of ‘I live here. This is my home.’”

Bowen, a Kenan Scholar, quickly began building community at Carolina and is now the co-president of both the Carolina Analytics and Data Science club and the Sexuality and Gender Alliance. This summer he’s taking his community involvement a step further by serving with the Town of Chapel Hill as a Jesse White Jr. Elected Public Official Intern.

Working alongside elected officials and staff at town hall, the public policy and statistics and analytics major is helping to make Chapel Hill a more sustainable home for future generations.

His internship, one of five funded by Dr. Jesse L. White, retired director of the Office of Economic and Business Development, and offered through the Carolina Center for Public Service’s APPLES service-learning program, has allowed Bowen to play a central role in executing Chapel Hill’s climate action plan. He’s researched the town’s charging infrastructure needs for electric vehicles, helped pilot a composting program and reached out to citizens to help them contribute to the town’s sustainability efforts.

“I’ve really seen that the way a town is set up — whether it’s walkable or not, how the air quality is, the physical setting that you live in — it all plays a huge role in people’s health and well-being in general,” he said.

For Bowen, who spent last spring interning in Washington, this internship has revealed the flip side of the policy coin. Bowen has had the opportunity to sit in on town council meetings and votes, as well as to interview local politicians about some of the issues facing Chapel Hill.

“Having been in D.C., I got a really good big picture view of things like the federal budget and the opioid crisis. So, then I was like, ‘How can I bring this back to a local context where I can really make change?’” he said.

Making change is Bowen’s goal.

“Very broadly, I’m interested in using my data skills in a way that contributes positively to the world and to social good, not just to a business goal,” he said. “I’ve learned that I really enjoy bringing together the research side of things and then actually being able to apply it.”

No matter the place he calls home in the future, Bowen said he’ll always find ways to get involved at the local level.

“One of the things I’ve taken away from this internship is that there are lots of ways to get involved in local government, not just from a staff perspective or running for office,” he said. “Whatever your time commitment or professional obligations, there’s always a way. Having this perspective, I see how important it is for citizens to come forward and bring your ideas and voice your concerns, and that’s something I definitely want to be a part of in my future.”

To find out more about supporting APPLES Service-Learning internships, contact Tricia Daisley or visit the Center for Public Service website to make a gift.