As the world went online and many internship opportunities dried up this spring, I had the good fortune of connecting with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) through the Science Communication Lab (SCL). The two organizations formed a “MPCA-SCL hybrid” internship that allowed me to write remotely about water quality, climate change, and chemical pollution in Minnesota.
As a Bioproducts Engineering student, climate change and environmental sustainability are two of my top scientific interests. These issues are often discussed on a global scale, but the MPCA lets me explore how they affect my own life through a Minnesota lens. At one point, I was working on a story about Minnesota’s intensified rainfall as a result of climate change when we received the fifth mega rain event in the state since 2010. From 1970-2000, we only saw seven total mega rains, but they’ve become more common since the turn of the century. As I experience the environmental topics I’m writing about, I’ve found the stories flow onto the page and engage readers more naturally. I’ve also become more curious about the landscapes around me, as I wonder if the lakes I visit or geologic formations I drive past are affected by the issues I’m writing about too.
Working remotely hasn’t been an issue in my writing process thus far. I interview MPCA scientists via Zoom and send drafts back and forth to editors at the agency and other interns in the SCL. Typically, I’m given a topic and a person to interview, rather than a specific story proposal. The open-ended nature has proven both challenging and exciting. I like going into an interview with a more flexible approach, especially when it allows the interviewee to direct it where they feel most passionate. However, I’ve also struggled to narrow down interviews to one specific story when the conversations are wide-ranging. Story arc tools and coaching lab appointments help me to define the stories in these pieces.
Writing for a state agency about environmental issues exceeds the expectations I had for my first year of science communication work. I’m grateful the Lab made it possible, and I am excited to see what comes next!