Summer Intern Spotlights: Part 1

Wondering what students from across campus did this summer to advance sustainability efforts at U-M and beyond? Check out Part 1 of our Summer Internship Spotlights below featuring the work of 6 students in support of our collective mission to transition to a more just and sustainable future.

Photo of Kenzie Nitz in front of some trees.
Kenzie, one of MDining’s sustainability interns.

Name: Kenzie Nitz

Year/major at U-M: Senior / Organizational Studies (M) & Program in The Environment (M)

Work this Summer: This summer, Kenzie has been working with MDining to foster community engagement on U-M’s campus, helping propel them towards a more sustainable future. One key project she worked on was updating MDining’s website to reflect their current sustainability initiatives. Kenzie also created a document that details MDining’s values, their DEI efforts, and their future goals. Through these initiatives, MDining hopes to show students that MDining is about more than just serving food.

Recently, Kenzie’s has been auditing MDining vendors. She is currently compiling data on their sustainability practices, including information related to their emissions and their demographics. Moving forward, MDining hopes to source more of their food locally (grown in Michigan or within 250 miles of campus) and work with more small, diverse businesses.

Sustainability Insight: When we know better, we must do better. We have the opportunity to learn a lot at U-M, so we should learn everything we can about being better for the world.

Future Plans: Kenzie plans to continue working with MDining this Fall.

Kathryn Economou giving a presentation.
Kathryn presenting her work.

Name: Kathryn Economou

Year/major at U-M: Second year Master’s student / Urban and Regional Planning

Work this Summer: Kathryn worked with Meridian Township this summer through the Catalyst Leadership Circle (CLC) fellowship. This fellowship partners U-M master’s students with municipalities across Michigan to foster increased sustainability practices across a wide array of sectors from policy to communications. Over the course of the summer, Kathryn made a sustainability-centered communications toolkit to make future climate communications easier for Meridian Township. This deliverable can also be used by other municipalities and organizations to further their climate plans. Sustainability campaigning can be hard for municipalities because their communications departments are already overstretched, so Kathryn’s project will take away the burden of coming up with a plan, and will hopefully quicken the implementation of their long-term climate strategy.

The Green Communications Tool Kit, her project, also contains educational components, like definitions of common sustainability terms and information about how to best communicate environmental data. Additionally, this tool kit contains templates for conducting a hybrid model of cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses, making it easier for municipalities to make well-informed decisions on program implementation and continuation to draw out their plans faster.

Sustainability Insight: We must aim to serve not only the environment, but also those who inhabit it. As we pursue sustainable development, every person should have a say in important community decisions in order to foster a shared vision of the future.

Future Plans: This school year, Kathryn will be developing a course in non-traditional urban planning models that emphasize community empowerment over top-down approaches.

Madison (left) and blog author Emily (right) volunteer at the zero-waste Convocation Picnic for new U-M students.
Madison (left) and blog author Emily (right) volunteer at the zero-waste Convocation Picnic for new U-M students.

Name: Madison McCann

Year/major at U-M: Second-year Master’s student / Higher Education

Work this Summer: Throughout the summer, Madison has been developing social change resources to help Planet Blue Ambassadors on their sustainability journeys. These resources are intended for those associated with U-M who have become Ambassadors and are looking for ways to be more involved in sustainability. One key resource explains how to best talk to various audiences about sustainability. Talking to roommates, for example, is different from talking to coworkers or landlords. This resource has advice about how to approach sustainability conversations and how to best engage those around us. For this and other resources, take the first step and become a Planet Blue Ambassador.

Madison has also been researching sustainability programs at other universities across the country and comparing them with U-M’s programs. She is observing what has been implemented on different campuses, and then seeing how we could incorporate similar programs at Michigan.

Sustainability Insight: Sustainability doesn’t have to be scary! People may often feel like there is nothing significant they can do, but in reality, the smallest actions may have a butterfly effect that can create broader social change. 

Future Plans: After Madison’s graduation this fall, she hopes to work on college advising with undecided students, helping them visualize their future and plan for their success.

Izabella Wentzell one of the Office of Campus Sustainability's interns.
Izabella, one of the Office of Campus Sustainability’s interns.

Name: Izabella Wentzell

Year/major at U-M: Junior / Environmental Engineering (M) & Sustainability, Program in The Environment (m)

Work this Summer: Izabella has been working with the Office of Campus Sustainability this summer, focusing on helping U-M achieve our carbon neutrality commitment. She and her team have been working on the Green Lights project, where they conduct lighting audits around campus and identify opportunities for LED upgrades. This data collection role includes visiting every room in every campus building, counting the lights, and noting which types of lights are in use. Over the course of the summer, Izabella’s team collected lighting data for over 120 buildings ranging from residential spaces to office buildings. They also traveled to U-M Flint to begin the lighting audits there, since the Flint campus does not yet have an energy management team.

The data collected will provide information about annual emission and cost savings. Although the Green Lights project is time consuming, according to Izabella, LED substitutions are key to reaching carbon neutrality, so the work will be worth it. 

Sustainability Insight: Sustainability solutions can be simple. There’s a thought that future technological advancements will be our savior, but we have a lot of solutions already! A main barrier is the cost of these solutions, but small substitutions, like turning off lights when not in use or switching to LED bulbs, will add up and make a significant difference. 

Cameron, one of MBGNA’s interns.

Name: Cameron Wilson

Year/major at U-M: Graduated May 2022 / Music (M) 

Work this Summer: This summer, Cameron has been spending their time fostering youth development and involvement in nature. They’ve been hosting events at the Gaffield Children’s Garden, such as clay molding and teaching kids how vegetables grow. Activities such as these, as well as making “nature potions” or sound making to mimic nature’s sounds, bring youth closer to our environment.

Additionally, Cameron has been working on their own intern project. They have been setting up the framework for future collaborations between the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum (MBGNA) and Anishinaabe artists. One existing collaborative effort is called the Heritage Seeds project, where Matthei is re-growing traditional plants sacred to the Anishinaabe people, saving them from extinction. Cameron is hoping to establish a space for more Anishinaabe artists to present their work at MBGNA.

Lastly, as part of their senior percussion recital this past spring, Cameron participated in a musical performance about a Mullein plant. They hope to continue amplifying their work through various art forms.

Sustainability Insight: Environmental justice work must be collaborative and community-oriented for it to work. For the best results, we can’t do everything ourselves! Also, it is important that we consider social justice in addition to environmental wellbeing when working in this field. 

Future Plans: Cameron is interested in pursuing a career in cultural and arts organizing. They are hoping to work at the intersection of music and ecology.

Emily (right) with fellow interns Emma (middle) and Morgan (left) at the farm stand.

Name: Emily Freeland 

Year/major at U-M: Second year Master’s student / Higher Education

Work this Summer: This summer, Emily has been conducting research to improve U-M’s Student Life sustainability programs. Through this experience, she has found that teaching sustainability through skills building can add more meaning to students’ learning journeys. For example, instead of telling people to use a compost bin, it can be more impactful to teach students how to make their own compost system at home. Teaching students skills and knowledge they can use years after graduation is empowering, and encourages long-term sustainability practices that reach beyond the U-M campus.

Emily has also been working at the UMSFP farm stand this summer. The food sold here is grown by students, for students, promoting a culture of food sovereignty on campus.

Sustainability Insight: Sustainability is all about community care. Well-being is essential for everyone; especially those fighting for environmental justice! Remember to take care of yourself, your mental health, and your community. Amidst the busloads of negative environmental news, one thing we have the power to do right now is care for ourselves and each other.

Future Plans: Emily will be co-running the Planet Blue Student Leaders (PBSL) program this year. Check out their new Instagram account to hear about some great sustainability projects being introduced on campus!

Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon featuring additional sustainability interns who worked in sustainability this past summer!