Article by: Sam Koenig (pictured far left)
Plant Chicago Operations Associate
University of Chicago Metcalf Scholar
As my summer internship with Plant Chicago wound down this August, I started thinking about how to best summarize my experience. At first I thought this would be a difficult task, as my time there had not been spent on one specific project but on a diverse mixture of assignments and programs. The longer I thought about it, however, the more I realized that this is precisely why I enjoyed interning with Plant Chicago as much as I did.
Variety was certainly the spice of life during my time with Plant Chicago. Some days, I led tours and workshops, helping students from Back of the Yards and greater Chicago learn about the circular economy, and how they can minimize waste in their own lives. Other days, I helped maintain Plant Chicago’s aquaponic farm or hugelkultur garden. I was able to undertake some larger projects, too: I worked to reduce the amount of junk mail (i.e., waste paper!) being sent to various tenants of The Plant, and conducted a survey examining the ways in which folks that work inside of The Plant commute to work.
While some tasks were obviously more enjoyable than others, I greatly appreciate the wide range of operations in which I participated. The fact that I was able to spend my time so variously not only kept things exciting, but also allowed me to develop more skills than I would have focusing on one task alone. Moreover, the variety itself has shown me the importance of being flexible and able to roll with the punches, a skill that is especially necessary in a small non-profit operating out of a building that is actively under construction. (A couple of weeks of my internship were spent in the PC farmstand while the office floors were refinished.)
Perhaps the best result of my variegated internship program, however, was the greater understanding of the circular economy that it afforded me. I was able to leave my internship with a much more complete understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the circular economy, and of the opportunities and challenges of its implementation, than I would have had I spent my entire summer working on one specific project. (This knowledge was also augmented by the time I spent collecting and reviewing journal articles on industrial symbiosis and the circular economy, and by the 2017 Industrial Symbiosis Research Symposium, which was held at The Plant and which I was fortunate enough to be able to observe.)
Now that the summer is over, I will be returning to the University of Chicago for my final year of college. While I am not yet sure exactly what I will be doing afterwards, I plan to enter a career field in which I can work towards Plant Chicago’s vision of healthy, equitable, and sustainable urban communities. Wherever I wind up, I know that the knowledge I gained while interning with Plant Chicago will prove invaluable to me.
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