Intern Stories: Dominique Smith

All through the school year students are put under the stress of exams and research papers and study groups and life that summer becomes the beckoning light that indicates their ability to be able to soon breathe again. And once this season of freedom is close enough you can feel the beach sand between your toes, they are reminded, “I should probably look into an internship”.

But finding a summer internship can be a daunting process for a college student, especially for one who is slightly undecided on her career goals. That “her” is me, a rising Senior at Spelman College majoring in English and a (recently declared) minor in Environmental Health. When I began my matriculation I had plans to become an English professor. I simply contributed my environmental prowess to my Californian upbringing and the go-green trend that entailed recycling and wearing ‘Save the Earth’ t-shirts. It wasn’t until I took an environmental toxicology class, where I read in my textbook that Clear Lake (my family’s yearly camping haven) was contaminated with copious amounts of mercury that my passion for environmental health was ignited.

My focus turned towards the chemicals that were causing issues in both the environment and the bodies of humans, which is why I was attracted to the work being done at the Center for Environmental Health. To be honest, I was a little uncertain because I have interned at non-profit organizations before and I stereotyped them all as cry-babying panhandlers for causes no one cares about – but CEH is different. Their mission isn’t based on raising money; it’s about clearing the toxics out of our products, and doing the job that manufacturers should be doing–testing their merchandise for harmful chemicals –to ensure they use safer business practices in the future.

Protecting families from substances that they are unwillingly exposed everyday is an admirable act and the staff reflect this sentiment through their interactions with others. I think people hardly leave this organization because every member of the team is valued, everyone is treated equally and decisions are made as a staff unit, not just through management. My first day in the office (my interview) I was immediately shocked at how laid back and conversational my interviewers were because I’ve become accustomed to the intimidating variety – they were even wearing jeans!

This does not take away from their intelligence though; I have come to realize that CEH staff and the other interns know everything about everything green. I share an office with two unbelievable women and overhear their phone meetings with dozens of people a day rattling off acronyms that sound like Pig Latin to me! And I’m not the only one who values the information provided here: one day I came in the office only to meet video cameras from a news station, here to ask questions about CEH’s lead in purses project. It makes me feel pretty important to go home and tell all my friends that my job is on the news!

I also felt important to CEH as an individual because I had actual tasks to complete that were relevant to me, not merely making copies and sending faxes. I told the women I intern for I loved to write, and they gave me interesting articles to write about. I said I was interested in pesticides and there was a workshop on it. I’ve never been in an organization that was so invested in the education of their interns the way the Center for Environmental Health is.  And it’s not all spoon fed: I have spent many hours doing my own research, learning about the reality of the issues CEH works on. My next job/internship will have big toxic-free feet to fill.  Because who else can beat this sort of real beneficial experience, all while combining the fun of watching staff cat walks during staff meetings? (You have to come to one to see what I’m talking about).

Unless…I just come back.