Step Outside Your Comfort Zone – Anna Burby (NR), The Nature Conservancy

Representing FER atop Three Top Mountain, a Nature Conservancy preserve.
Representing FER atop Three Top Mountain, a Nature Conservancy preserve.

After a three hour drive, a five hour hike, and enduring blisters from my Chacos, I decided that the view from Three Top Mountain Wildlife Preserve made up for it all. It was then I realized how fortunate I was to have landed an amazing internship with The Nature Conservancy of North Carolina. Having the chance to explore all corners of our great state for an entire summer, I felt pretty lucky.

Like many students nearing their last semester as a junior, I fell victim to that evil monster known as procrastination. I waited until March to begin applying for internships, and in the end, I only found three I was interested in. I received an email about an organization known as the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Their mission is to pair need-based students with non-profit organizations for paid internships in NC. Four weeks, three interviews, and two rejections later, I landed what would soon become my greatest work experience ever with The Nature Conservancy of North Carolina as a Communications and Philanthropy intern.

I had no idea what I was getting into as a Philanthropy and Communication intern. My skills tended to lean more towards the outdoors; taking soil samples, cruising timber, assessing land for wildlife, all that my natural resources degree had trained me for. Not for communicating with the public, researching and creating social media postings, and all for a non-profit organization that I quite honestly didn’t know much about. I was their social media presence this summer. I had a lot to learn in the next six weeks about the company I was working for and how to relay their mission to the general public in a fun and exciting way.

The biggest issue I would face during my internship was quickly realized within the first week; I had to drive an hour and a half one-way to get to Durham for work. Luckily, I only had to work Monday through Thursday. With this being the only drawback to my summer internship, I had it pretty easy.

I was put in charge of several projects, such as monitoring and writing for the TNC North Carolina Chapter’s Facebook page and writing and co-writing several articles that are featured on the Nature Conservancy’s website. In addition, I monitored the analytics on our social media postings to better tailor future content to engage with our audience.

Tinder "profile" of the eastern garter snake.
My Tinder “profile” of the eastern garter snake.

I also drafted a social media proposal for the creation of a collaborative Snapchat account with the TNC NC office and several of our state parks and nature preserves. One of my favorite projects was a Facebook post about a new app that the Davidson College Herpetology lab created that allows users to access more than 150 photos of our 37 native NC snake species, as well as descriptions of each species. With the use of an online program called “Canva,” I mocked the set-up of Tinder to create a funny posting about a common reptile.

Being in charge of so many ways the organization communicated with the general public, I really enhanced my communication skills throughout my summer, which was my biggest need going into this internship. I learned how to use appropriate language when communicating with the general public, how to search for relevant issues and events going on in local communities, as well as how to properly plan for and write an online article posting. I had the help of my direct supervisor for topic choices and to make edits as needed.

Another huge perk to working with The Nature Conservancy this summer was that my job not only allowed me to write about the amazing natural areas our state has, but I was given the chance to visit several of them. From the coastal swamps of Green Swamp Preserve, inland to Black Ankle Bog, and even far west as Elk Knob State park and Three Top Mountain Preserve. It gave me the opportunity to explore these new areas that not many NC residents have. After visiting these sites, I would write fun and interactive articles encouraging other North Carolinians to get outdoors and explore the incredible landscapes we have in our own backyards.

In addition to helping to improve my writing techniques, I interacted with numerous environmentalists and learned how both the philanthropy and conservation sections of The Nature Conservancy work. I saw what it takes to run and work for a non-profit organization. It was a great opportunity to build my resume and my connections, as well as get my foot in the door with a well-known organization.

As I finished up my internship with TNC, I reflected on the most gratifying moments working for them. I enjoyed educating the public about our natural parks and preserves, encouraging online followers and their children to explore the great outdoors this summer, and even volunteering at a local after-school program and helping teach the students about numerous reptiles in our home state. This, paired with the opportunity to discuss environmental topics and issues with those who had such a varied background with the subject matter, made me think about how important it is to get these topics and ideas into people’s minds early in life led to me realize what steps I wanted to take after my last semester at NC State. I plan to take on graduate school with the hopes of one day becoming a Biology or Environmental Science college professor. I have since been accepted into an online graduate program through Clemson University, and I will be working as a biology lab instructor for a local community college in the spring. Here’s to starting my next adventure!