Senior political science major Abigail Tennenbaum has a passion for food and a desire for positive change. Through her fall internship at the College of Charleston’s Office of Sustainability, Abigail integrated both of these aspects. Her major project during her internship was determining the feasibility of procuring local produce from GrowFood Carolina, South Carolina’s first local food hub, for the College of Charleston’s Dining Services.
Abigail noted that buying local food “contributes to the local economy (because) profits stay in the state rather than being dispersed among national and multinational companies, lowers the carbon footprint due to shorter transportation distances, and takes advantage of the year-round growing season we have here.”
She was well-prepared for her internship because she had interned the previous summer with GrowFood Carolina, and therefore had already established a solid relationship with the nonprofit. Abigail noted that her tasks included “examining and analyzing what Dining Services currently purchases in order to begin identifying potential areas of enhancing local purchasing.” She also researched what other school programs, like the University of Virginia, were doing to procure local food and what alternative models were available. In addition, Abigail worked to figure out how GrowFood Carolina could become an official vendor at the College of Charleston.
Abigail learned about the Office of Sustainability early in her college career. As a member of the Green CofC*, the undergraduate sustainability organization on campus, she met a number of political science majors who were involved with the office and began taking on individual projects of her own. Over two semesters, she spearheaded the implementation of the composting program that is currently in the College’s dining halls. This program has resulted in approximately 500,000 pounds of food waste being diverted from the landfill. Not only did her experience create positive change for the College, it also helped her explore a potential career interest.
Abigail has enjoyed the flexibility, autonomy, and sense of community she experienced in the Office of Sustainability and has the advantage of learning with 24 other interns. The Office also has provided a number of professional development and networking opportunities such as regular office meetings as well as career and grant writing workshops. Abigail has even had the opportunity to present on her compost initiative at the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference.
She found her political science background helpful in her internship for several reasons. She said that learning the “big systems approach” has helped her better understand the system that she is currently working in and helping to change. Just as there are key actions and steps necessary for political change, there are short term and long term goals necessary for the type of change she is looking to achieve with food procurement. Abigail also noted that because she has been required to give a number of presentations in her political science classes, she is more comfortable presenting and learned how to tailor her message to a variety of audiences.
When asked what advice she would give future interns, Abigail recommended that they reflect on their experiences. She encouraged journaling, keeping a detailed planner, making notes of lessons learned and planning for the future. She admitted that internships can be time consuming but they are necessary and can be quite rewarding.
*Please note that Green CofC has merged with the Alliance for Planet Earth and is now called CofC Alliance for Planet Earth. Meetings take place every other Wednesday at 6 pm in Maybank 103. The next meeting will be held on February 25th.