Fellowship Program – Five Years In

This summer marked the fifth year of the PEC Fellowship Program, which is becoming a nationally known educational program for students with an interest in environmental work. Each year, twelve college students, graduate students, and recent graduates spend seven weeks with us, gaining hands-on experience in a wide range of environmental fields—from energy efficiency to land conservation, stream restoration to local food, wildlife habitat to urban planning.

The 2011 Fellowship Program attracted an extremely high caliber of students, who joined us from nationally ranked schools across the country. Even so, several students said they learned more over the summer than they usually do in class.

Kaitlin Meese, who graduated this year with a degree in Molecular Biology from the University of Colorado commented, “The PEC Fellowship fosters an impactful and practical education environment that surpasses any classroom experience. I feel confident that the knowledge I have gained here will aid me in future endeavors, due to its versatility and pragmatism.”

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Peter Hawes, a Creative Writing major at the University of Mary Washington, said, “This program gave me an exhaustive background in environmental issues, and helped me to connect personally with this landscape… I also learned more in these seven weeks than in a typical semester of college—and the learning stuck because it was hands-on.”

The program is comprised of four weeks of field trips and lectures, followed by three weeks of work on independent practicums. This year, fellowship activities involved over 58 speakers, representing PEC as well as 35 other organizations, groups, firms, farms and businesses. Among these activities were:

  • Visiting ten farms to learn about growing practices and sustainability measures (and pitch in with the farm work)
  • Assisting with conservation stewardship monitoring
  • Setting camera traps to document wildlife
  • Participating in a home energy audit
  • Studying two stream restoration projects
  • Getting an inside view of a waste management facility and a water treatment plant
  • Touring three historical buildings and two Civil War battlefields
  • Meeting with legislative lobbyists and holding a mock session in the Virginia Capitol Building
  • Debating land–use during a mock Board of Supervisors meeting
  • Taking a land-use tour of southern Fauquier County
  • Listening to developers’ perspective during a land use panel
  • Taking a smart-growth focused tour of DC
  • Canoeing two rivers
  • Climbing four mountains
  • Connecting with alumni during a PEC Fellowship reunion

The fellows went on to produce excellent practicums that advance the work of PEC and our partners. Edward Hill, who is working toward a Masters degree in Energy and Environmental Analysis at Boston University, and who produced an analysis of rural development in Fauquier County, said, “I found my practicum experience to be quite challenging because I put myself into territory that I was unfamiliar with. Before this fellowship I had never worked with GIS and had very little understanding of zoning. I’ve immersed myself in this study, and have learned a lot as a result.”

This year’s PEC fellows join an expanding network of young professionals and activists who are working for positive change in communities across the country. Among them, Susannah Byrd, a new graduate of  Kenyon College and a 2011 PEC fellow, said, “I learned so much about how to be an active citizen and community member –no matter where I am living and what my career is!”

Learn more about the PEC Fellowship Program.