Learning to Implement Change in a Federal Government Setting

An internship in summer 2021 with the Milwaukee VA Medical Center has given Maura Hanley’22 a better feel for a potential career in environmental management.

A summer 2021 internship at the VA Medical Center in Milwaukee introduced environmental studies major Maura Hanley’22 to what a career in environmental management might look like. At the VA, she worked in the Nutrition and Food Services department within the Green Environmental Management System.

“I was able to collaborate with staff in the department to integrate more food sustainability into their patient menu. For example, I introduced NFS to meat blending, which involves replacing a portion of a meat dish with mushrooms or similar substitute. With meat blending, NFS has the potential to decrease the greenhouse gas emissions of their meatloaf recipe by 15%. They’re now incorporating the technique into their meatloaf recipe.”

Working in the department also allowed Maura to explore different aspects of healthcare sustainability, and to get a sense of how many departments at the VA are involved in this type of work.

At Beloit, Maura’s focus within environmental studies is environmental justice. She was therefore particularly excited to be able to apply this aspect of her studies to her work during the internship. Indeed, she found this experience of applying what she has learned at Beloit illuminating.

Now, having completed her internship, she’s looking even more forward to her senior year, as she hopes to draw on the knowledge she gained during the internship for her senior thesis. And beyond her final year of studies, Maura’s internship experience stands to aid her well in life post-graduation.

“I now better understand the bureaucracy and ‘red-tape’ involved in successfully implementing an environmental or sustainability project. I also am more confident in my professional abilities and am much more knowledgeable about environmental management at a federal level.”

On a very practical level, the internship helped Maura better understand what she likes or wants in a job and what she doesn’t. She’s gained a better sense of the office and work settings that pair best with her learning and work habits. Additionally, the internship helped her narrow down the types of work, research, and topics she wants to pursue in the future.

She reports that “a unique perk of interning at a federal institution is having access to the EPA’s training webinars for federal employees. These webinars have allowed me to become up-to-date with EPA current and recent projects, including those related to environmental justice. I am now both much more knowledgeable about professional environmental careers and more confident in my ability to make meaningful contributions to this type of work.”

Maura’s advice to new Beloit students? “Explore all your interests! It’s very easy to take classes in a wide variety of disciplines—and in a way Beloit sort of requires you to. You’ll be surprised how seemingly different classes will actually connect in unique and important ways. And most importantly, make sure to take time for yourself!”

By: Elizabeth Brewer
August 31, 2021

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