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One change: OEC interns reflect on careers and climate action

Austin Amburgey, November 4, 2022

Coming from all over the country and with diverse academic backgrounds, this year’s summer intern cohort was united by our shared desire for change. This year’s internship cohort consisted of in-person and online work, while many met daily in OEC’s Columbus office and others enjoyed the flexibility of remote work. Each of us brought genuine passion to our work, and dreams of where things could be in the future.

In speaking with each intern, I was struck by the passionate way they spoke about these changes, and so I asked them, “If you could be responsible for one change in the environmental world, what would it be?”

Lenny Zaleski, one of our political interns, arrived in the office early this year as part of the University of Dayton Civic Scholars Program. Hailing from Chicago, Lenny saw the OEC as a perfect blend of non-profit work, issue advocacy, and environmental politics. Growing up in the Windy City, he recognized the different environmental needs of people and desired to help provide information and resources they deserved. The change he saw himself making was a bridge between digital communications and in-person relationship-building to reach the most people possible. At the OEC, Lenny was able to take steps along that path, creating social media posts and a press release to help disseminate that crucial information.

Another political intern, Gillian Champoir, grew up on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland and comes to us from Denison University. Living on the lake, Gillian’s community was dependent upon and at the will of the environment. She was inspired by both her love of the lake and the fear of harmful algal blooms that continue to damage our most precious natural resource. If she could change anything it would be the minds of those opposed to minimizing the damage of climate change—to make them believe in the science that will, ultimately, help them too. Since joining the OEC, she’s worked on watershed studies, inspecting phosphorus levels and algal blooms, and on legislation to make that change a reality.

Coming all the way from Tampa, Florida, Graham Johnson of Ohio State University served as OEC’s water intern. Growing up in Florida, Graham bore witness to the policies and processes that lead to ecosystem degradation in his community. Building upon his first internship experience with the OEC, he hopes to help reverse environmental harms and stop similarly damaging policies from taking effect elsewhere. He wants to see environmental policy placed on the same playing field as other aspects of our society and be discussed as necessary for a safe and stable country. He’s already worked on a comparison of water affordability across the country at the OEC, helping make this a priority issue as we all need access to clean, safe, and affordable water.

Jess Reiser is a law student at Northern Kentucky, and served as one of OEC’s legal interns. She felt called to action by the devastating prognosis of climate change on the world, and hopes to continue working in the legal field to help mitigate and reverse the effects we are having on the planet. In the long term, via intense legislation and society-wide action, she wants to help support the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. With the OEC, she has already done work reviewing legislation that would have stymied this change by protecting the corporations that continue to negatively impact the environment.

Originally from Toledo, OEC’s other legal intern, Kennedy Sattler, attends George Mason for law school. There, she grew an appreciation for the natural resources that make that part of Ohio so beautiful and a wonderful place to spend time. But she also saw the steady decay of areas, particularly Maumee Bay, a place she swam in as a child now often cordoned off for harmful algal blooms. Through her work as a lawyer, Kennedy hopes to establish constitutional amendments, at the state or federal level, for environmental protections. She hopes to protect ecosystems by ensuring our right to a clean environment, and began this in her work with the OEC to increase protections for the Darby Creek watershed.

Hannah Zoldesy, another OSU grad, served as our development intern. Her love of philanthropy and experience in fundraising lends her to non-profit work, and the mission of the OEC was one she could get behind. She wants a greater level of collaboration between environmental and community organizations, and in her position she has begun to see that come to fruition, creating a database of granting organizations across Ohio.

As for myself, as public affairs intern, I grew up in rural Northwest Ohio. I spent much of my childhood camping and enjoying nature in and around my small hometown, and I fell in love with conservation-related media. If I could change one thing about how environmentalism is perceived, it would be to draw attention to the local action that has been and should continue to be taken to protect the environment. I have been able to do so through the OEC thanks to a number of projects highlighting local efforts, like OEC’s effort to protect Wayne National Forest.