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Kaitlyn O’Donnell: I relearned how to write at my City of Raleigh Internship

I consider myself a proficient writer. Sure, I don’t know all the right places to put a comma, or sometimes I misuse a word. But my style of writing has not changed much. This summer, I relearned how to write.

Let me give some background. I have always wondered about the inner workings of the City of Raleigh municipal government. What does the day to day look like for a government official, do you have a direct relationship with the public, and how is our city government prioritizing sustainability efforts? This summer I had an opportunity to find out the answers to my questions as I embarked on an internship through the Partnership Raleigh Community Climate Internship Program. This program, run through the City of Raleigh Housing and Neighborhoods department, partners with multiple City of Raleigh departments and offices on projects that will support the Raleigh Community Climate Action Plan (CCAP).

The 2022 Partnership Raleigh Community Climate Interns at the 2022 Dorothea Dix Earth Day Celebration. They are in front of the City of Raleigh Electric Bus which was unveiled at this celebration.

I was fortunate enough to be sent to the Office of Sustainability as a Sustainability Intern to work on outreach and education projects highlighting sustainability projects completed by the City of Raleigh that often did not get the most public attention. We concluded that these projects were the Parks and Recreations Invasive Species Program, the Departments of Transportation Cool Roadways Projects, and Raleigh Stormwater green stormwater infrastructure projects.

To provide information that is accessible and brief, my supervisor and I decided that I would write a script and create audio files for these projects. A link to the audio file would be presented on yard signs distributed across the city at locations where the sustainability project is taking place. I met with all the heads of the departments either in person or over Microsoft Teams and discussed how they want their projects to be featured in these audio clips.

Draft mockups of what the yard signs will potentially look like.
Draft mockups of what the yard signs will potentially look like.
Draft mockups of what the yard signs will potentially look like.

This is where I had to relearn to write. The first drafts of my scripts were complete and contained all the necessary information. However, my supervisor would reiterate “this script is great but you are writing academically.” Terms such as urban heat island and invasive species that I use every single day in school are jargon to the average Raleigh resident. I had to learn how to write to communicate. This took many drafts and a lot of work, but I was able to offer a finished project that will be utilized by all three departments. I even borrowed a microphone from the NC State libraries to record these audio clips!

With this new knowledge of how to write to communicate, I took on my next project.

Pollinator week 2022 ran from June 20th to June 26th and I was tasked with creating a video that highlights how the City of Raleigh supports the pollinator species and how the community can help the city’s efforts. This pollinator video is significant because it combines the work of multiple departments to give a holistic perspective on the pollinator protection efforts, the certifications the City has received, and the programs in place to help initiate resident pollinator efforts. The departments included were the Office of Sustainability, Parks and Recreation, Raleigh Stormwater, Raleigh Water, Raleigh Department of Transportation, and Housing and Neighborhoods. This video was then featured on the City of Raleigh pollinator website and across many of the city’s sites.

Link to 2022 Pollinator Week Video:

Both projects allowed me to support the Raleigh Community Climate Action plan through creating public education and outreach materials about sustainability efforts of the City of Raleigh. Most importantly the Community Climate Action Plan is not effective without the help of the community. I was able to create materials that detailed the rewards programs for installing green stormwater infrastructure or pollinator gardens on residents’ private property to increase public action. My goal of these projects was to increase public knowledge of these amazing projects like invasive species removal, Green stormwater infrastructure, and Cool Roadways and hopefully increase public support. 

This internship helped me realize the importance of communication. Remember those questions I had about municipal government. Well, through interaction with government officials I had these questions answered. Through my tour of the Raleigh greenhouse with Neal Wisenbaker, I learned about the day to day of a head horticulturist and the amazing technology that the city is utilizing in their greenhouse. At the Environmental Advisory Board meeting, I observed as the local residents on the board advised government employees on how to make their upcoming projects fit with the community’s sustainability views and needs. And finally, at the 2022 Environmental Awards, I worked as a greeter and met members from City Council, government employees, and award winners. I learned about the amazing efforts that our community members are making to help mitigate the effects of climate change and even met employees and students of NCSU who were receiving awards for their environmental projects.

Kaitlyn O’Donnell and Alyanna Wilson receive a tour of the Raleigh Greenhouse from Neal Wisenbaker
The Partnership Raleigh Community Climate Interns with the Director Cathey Ector Cox at the 2022 Environmental Awards
Kaitlyn O’Donnell working as a greeter at the 2022 Environmental Awards

I always considered employment in municipal government, but this summer I truly believe that my heart is in this career path. The work that the City of Raleigh completes directly impacts the community and I want to continue this work and expand it.

So yes, this summer I relearned how to write, but most importantly I learned how to communicate with the Raleigh community that I have grown up around and love with all my heart.