From creating an interactive stormwater management exhibit at a local children’s museum to boosting recycling opportunities throughout campus, student interns from the Virginia Tech Office of Sustainability within the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities, continue to lead the charge in creating sustainable change on the Blacksburg campus and surrounding communities.

Going into its 11th year, the award-winning Office of Sustainability Internship Program provides students with invaluable opportunities to gain real-world insights and professional skills in sustainability and university operations. Approximately 20 interns participate in the academic year-long internship program each year.

Intern teams use the Virginia Tech campus as a living-learning laboratory, partnering with leaders from Energy ManagementStormwater ManagementDining Services, and more, to conceptualize and implement innovative projects that help reduce the university’s environmental impact.

The hands-on projects offer students the opportunity to gain practical career skills in sustainability, project management, and communications, as well as expand their environmental knowledge base. Projects encompass a multitude of topics including recycling, water and energy conservation, food sustainability, alternative transportation, and much more. 

While students in the 2019-20 internship class certainly had a unique spring semester, intern teams adapted quickly to the new working conditions to deliver successful project outcomes over the academic year.

The Office of Sustainability would like to recognize these student-interns for their hard work and dedication to implementing sustainability initiatives that will have lasting positive impacts for environmental stewardship on campus and in the greater community.

Project highlights from 2019-20 student intern teams: 

Water Team

  • Created an interactive information wall at Wonder Universe: A Children’s Museum in Christiansburg. The purpose of the wall is to educate children and their parents on the importance of clean water, monitoring water use, and stormwater management.
  • Assisted Virginia Tech Site and Infrastructure Development in grant writing and focused on the design of an interactive water table that will be installed at the museum in the future.
  • Members: Allison Mitchell (team leader), Nicole Luxford (communications representative), Laura Kiesel, Lily Michaud, Julie Swann
  • Advisor: Katelyn Kast, water resources specialist, Site and Infrastructure Development, Virginia Tech


Water cycle wall at Wonder Universe
Portion of the interactive wall designed by the Water Team at Wonder Universe in Christiansburg.

Waste Team

  • Developed new stickers and replaced old stickers for on-campus Big Belly Solar trash compactors and recycling bins. The stickers explain what can and cannot be recycled on campus.
  • Created a Zero Waste Event Guide to be shared with the university community in partnership with Dining Services and Housing and Residence Life. The guide is in the final design and review stage.
  • Members: Amy Klinger (team leader), Taylor Bush (communications representative), Kelly Graff, Siddhant Kekal, Kate Lord
  • Advisor: Blake Bensman, sustainability manager, Housing and Residence Life and Dining Services

Food Team

  • Collaborated with Dining Services to analyze a database of items purchased and utilized in dining halls; labeled items with the following categories: local, recyclable, compostable, and other sustainability-related tags. This analysis helped the intern team deliver recommendations around alternative more sustainable items to be purchased.
  • The project directly ties to the university’s Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System (STARS) submitted to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education every three years. STARS is the nationally recognized marker for sustainability for higher education institutions.
  • Members: Sami Livingston (team leader), Claire Gallihugh (communications representative), Gabrielle Dean, Michael Bannon, Catie Grayson
  • Advisor: Blake Bensman, sustainability manager, Housing and Residence Life and Dining Services

Energy Team

  • Updated the university’s Bike Parking Master Plan. The plan details the university’s strategy for accommodating the growth of the Virginia Tech campus and student body in a way that will provide sufficient bike parking in all areas of campus.
  • The project included extensive inventorying bike racks, checking for damage, surveying usage over time, and researching best practices.  
  • Members: Emily Vollmer (team leader), Erica Schermerhorn (communications representative), Heidi Hahn, Katie Hillis, Jimmy McAvoy
  • Advisor: Nick Quint, transportation network manager

“Throughout the academic year, our student interns have exhibited exceptional hard work and passion for making the world a more sustainable place. Their flexibility and continued commitment to their projects throughout the COVID-19 emergency has been truly impressive. The legacy our interns will leave at Virginia Tech through their sustainability projects and actions will have tangible impacts for years to come,” said Nathan King, sustainability manager.

Written by Christy Myers

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