Written by Carli Richard, O’Neill Sustainability major, O’Neill Office of Sustainability intern
My passion for the environment has always been part of who I am. I grew up on a farm in Northern Indiana and spent much of my childhood outdoors. That lifestyle helped me develop an appreciation for nature and the beauty it entails, as well as a strong desire to protect it. As I got older, I knew I wanted my passion for the environment to align with my future career. Yet coming from a rural area, I was never exposed to careers focused on sustainability. I also didn’t know yet how to build a network of connections that would open doors. But I found both of those things at O’Neill IUPUI.
I came to IUPUI as an undecided major. I explored different career paths for me to find the place where I could combine my passion with my future and become an O’Neill Sustainability major—and I knew I had found the perfect fit. I eventually took a chance and applied for an internship position with the IUPUI Office of Sustainability. I was pleasantly surprised to be accepted as the Waste Management intern and was eager to start gaining experience and making connections with sustainability professionals. And I have not been disappointed.
My first major project focused on improving the infrastructure of waste and recycling bins on campus. This included implementing proper signage at recycling bins to show which items are recyclable, ensuring all bins on campus are paired with recycling and waste bins, and ensuring bins are conveniently and appropriately placed and spaced out across campus. After collecting data about the program and bin placement on campus, I was able to create a visual and accurate representation of our current situation. This was a crucial step that provided an opportunity for me to not only improve waste collection on campus but also to develop data collection skills in a real-world setting. By plotting bin locations in ArcGis Field Maps, I could conveniently determine which areas needed improvements. After finishing this project, we expect recycling rates to increase and contamination in the recycling bins to decrease.
My internship also allowed me to lead efforts on the annual Spring Stuff Swap. The event allows people on campus to donate items—rather than tossing them—and to then shop for other items to promote sustainably. In a world full of waste, we must be mindful of what we dispose of and how we dispose of it. The Stuff Swap is a great reminder that although it might be slightly more convenient to throw things away, it is more beneficial and responsible to give another person a chance to use the item if possible.
These types of opportunities have expanded my skills and added experiences to my ever-growing resume while building my knowledge and my network. Thanks to that combination, I received a planning and engagement opportunity for the Indianapolis 500 partnering with the Can Manufacturers Institute and Coke Consolidated. Through this work, I’ll create and implement a plan to divert recyclable items from parking lots at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to recycling bins.
Thanks in part to my mentor from Mentor Collective, I’ll take on a new adventure this summer through an internship with The Patachou Foundation. The foundation manages two urban farms, using those to supply fresh farm-to-table meals as they work to address childhood food insecurity in Indianapolis. I was offered a summer internship there where I’ll learn more about urban agriculture while focusing on organic, sustainable farming practices and the basics of beekeeping and maintaining bee hives.
Every opportunity I’ve received came from the network of professional connections I’ve built through O’Neill, the Office of Sustainability, and the many projects on which I’ve worked. As a result, I’ve learned to take every opportunity to make contacts in new places and to explore every new opportunity, no matter how trivial it may seem.
Networking has already had a powerful impact on my life and made me realize there are many ways to meet potential employers, find internships, and work together to create a more sustainable future for everyone.