My STEP Experience at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

My STEP Signature experience was an internship working with the state’s energy conservation and sustainability administrator at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction this past summer as a sustainability intern. Some of my duties and main activities I do include utility data tracking, scheduling, attend meetings with institutions and various vendors, and participate in site visits. My department is staffed by one person so I do all the odds and ends type of work she needs to be completed.

Working in corrections was a new experience for me, and I expected to feel challenged with my work and personal outlook. Before this summer, I have done some work with youth probate court and Children and Family Services. Being part of the corrections world first hand is a very new experience. Sustainability in prisons is relatively new, ever since my boss’s predecessor held the position around 2010. This experience has provided me with my first time going into a prison, interacting with correctional officers, interacting with inmates, and momentarily experiencing life on the inside.

Learning more about Ohio’s rehabilitation efforts as well as those nationwide has also been eye opening. My favorite thing that I have learned is that sustainability is being used as a means of rehabilitation and positive influence to help people turn their lives in a more positive direction. I became interested in sustainability because I believe in its positive impact on human and societal health; to see that in action and being applied statewide has been a phenomenal experience.

Another major part of my experience has been working for a state agency. ODRC has to comply with all rules of the state such as purchasing, chain of command, and various departments within DRC. Jumping through many hoops and following very specific rules makes it difficult to accomplish anything in a reasonable span of time. Though I have only been at ODRC for about 6 weeks, I have learned a tremendous amount making me excited for the future.

Many specific events, interactions, relationships, and activities during my STEP Project thus far have led me to the change and transformation. From my wonderful boss to the office environment, to the many outside contracting companies to guards and inmates, my time at ODRC so far has been full of rich experiences.

My first and main connection at ODRC is my boss, Leah Morgan. She is the only one in the sustainability department and leads with the title of energy conservation and sustainability administrator. Leah’s fearlessness, curiosity, and excitement and passion for learning has made her so successful thus far. From day one, she has pushed her hardest to give me the most valuable experience possible, and I am so very grateful for the opportunities she has given me.
In the office environment, I have met many different people. I never knew how many different people worked at ODRC. I’ve met financial, construction, technology, training officers, and chiefs of departments. By working around and with so many different individuals, I have learned what it takes to keep our state institutions running.

Inside the institutions, I have met many different correctional officers, captains, and specific inmates. So many of ODRC’s sustainability projects depend on an officer or institution employee to take on the project at their facility (i.e.: recycling). I have met many employees more than willing to dive in and make their program successful, making my boss’s job much easier and her goals more attainable. Meeting inmates has been the most unique experience so far this summer. I had no expectations going in but was given basic safety training. This experience has humanized inmates to me, even those with life sentences for very serious crimes. Working with inmates has proven to me even further the importance of rehabilitation and recidivism, and we are able to achieve that through using sustainability as a primary tool.

Working in the correctional system is not something I ever anticipated or dreamed of when I was younger. As my graduation and entrance to the “real world” approaches, I’ve been forced to think about what matters to me and how I can be a part of solving that problem. My passion for sustainability stems from the interactions that human/societal health and environmental health have with one another. Working with inmates directly has been the most transformational portion of this experience because I can now see where this work will pay off. Ohio has much lower recidivism rates than the national average which can be partially attributed to the sustainability efforts in our 27 institutions. This impacts my future plans because it has fully restored my confidence that sustainability is going to be a key to our future whether it is applied to correctional institutions, public schools, hospitals, or integrated into all aspects of everyday life.

My 2016 STEP Internship Experience- Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Clean Water

This past summer, I moved to the remote Appalachian city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania to intern in the Research & Development department of a consulting company, Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC).  My role as a Water Technology Intern at CTC was centered around enhancing and improving the desalination process by studying ways to mitigate energy requirements and prevent membrane fouling.  During my 10-week internship, I worked with engineering mentors and management to design my own R&D project, test my prototype in a laboratory setting, and finally present my findings/white paper to a panel of executives at CTC.

During my stay in PA, I lived in a single bedroom apartment just outside of the University of Pittsburgh- Johnstown location.  It was the first time I had lived on my own, let alone in a state other than Ohio.  In a social sense, the experience allowed me to learn so much about myself; I was able to focus on my own personal interests and preferences, explore the local sites and mountainous parks, and I was forced to go outside my comfort zone in order to make relationships with those around me.  I spent a weekend backpacking a portion of the Laurel Highlands trail, where my eyes were opened to the ancient natural beauty of the Appalachians and my passion for nature was fueled. I met my best friend at CTC, and now I will be a Bridesmaid at her wedding this upcoming August.  We made a summer bucket list of all the hidden wonders of Johnstown and all the townee delights, such as the “best ice cream in America,” Kennywood’s famous cheese fries, and her dad’s smoked venison.  We explored all the local coffee shops during our lunch breaks, and learned Belly dancing and Zumba in the evenings after work.  I’m very lucky to have made so many lasting memories and quality friendships in Johnstown that I continue to maintain even six months later.

In a professional sense, I feel as though my internship was one of the best experiences I’ve had thus far in my career.  I was exposed to a plethora of engineering disciplines, including Mechanical, Chemical, Plastics, and Electrical Engineering.  I was able to discuss the properties of Graphene with my Chemical Engineering mentor in order to brainstorm ways to enhance the strength of our desalination membranes.  In addition to learning new disciplines, I was able to apply the theoretical knowledge that I’d been taught in Environmental/Civil Engineering at OSU to real-world scenarios and expand my skill set to include all of these disciplines.  For example, I was able to apply my Statics and Strength of Materials knowledge to designing and building a sliding Aluminum target plate for a technology called electrospinning, which we experimented with in order to synthesize nanoporous membranes for the prototype system.  The “hands-off” structure of the Research portion of my internship allowed me to shape my work ethic into a highly organized, self-motivated one.

Another impressive benefit to CTC’s internship program was the technical aspect of the project–this included writing a lengthy, detailed white paper addressed to a real client, and a filmed 40-minute presentation to the CEO, CFO, VP, HR Director, and dozens of other Executives from the company, as well as all of the professionals we had interacted with during our time at CTC.  Needless to say, my fear of public speaking had vanished quite quickly after being forced to present my findings to this quantity and caliber of professionals.  All in all, the work I was involved with during my time at CTC allowed me to get a better understanding of what kind of work environment I wish to have when I graduate from OSU–one with positive energy among workers, project-based, and interdisciplinary freedom to keep things interesting and diverse.

When I came back from Johnstown after my 10-week internship, I was absolutely a changed person.  I was more confident, more knowledgeable, and generally a happier, more well-balanced person.  My undergraduate research efforts and extracurriculars have been influenced by my internship experience too; I am now the Project Lead for a new Desalination Prototype Project in the club I’m involved in, Engineers for a Sustainable World.  My research efforts have been propelled by my interests in desalination and materials science technologies and I am now a much better public speaker and technical communicator.  I also am much more familiar and comfortable with an Engineering consulting firm’s environment as well as an R&D setting, which will aid me in the search for a full-time career in the field of Engineering–no matter if I end up in the public or private sector.

Immersion into an entirely new city/work environment is something I believe everyone should experience at some point during their college experience or early on in their life.  It allows you to learn so much about yourself, both in a social sense and in a professional sense.  I would like to sincerely thank STEP for granting me with the funds to experience an internship in a location other than my own.