What's it like to be a Communications Intern at CCSE?

intern communications

The word “intern” probably conjures up a sad, almost comical image in most people’s minds. The intern is stereotypically the frenzied office assistant, a poor college student desperate for work experience who schedules appointments and makes coffee runs for an iron-fisted and tyrannical boss, à la Anne Hathaway’s character in "The Devil Wears Prada." Needless to say, my intern experience at CCSE was far from that.

For the last seven months, I’ve been CCSE’s communications intern. All those Facebook posts and tweets you saw, emails you received, blogs you read - yep, that was me. Not only did I learn about Steelhead trout and the world of environmental nonprofits during my internship, but I also gained valuable experience and connections that will help boost my resume and portfolio.

communications intern Cecilia

Working with our director, Chris Lim, definitely made my job an enjoyable and educational experience. We would meet a few times a week to brainstorm ideas for social media strategy, blog posts, and email content, and he was always open and receptive to my thoughts. I was also granted a lot of creative freedom in my writing and graphic designs; for the most part, whatever I came up with was a go, save for a few edits Chris would add. The job’s flexibility gave me lots of room to grow and try new things.

Speaking of which, I did try lots of new things - I had never managed a professional Facebook or Twitter account before, and learning social media strategizing was a huge bonus, seeing as most of the jobs I’m applying to now are looking for someone with that experience. I also gained experience in writing appeals for donations, which is a really important skill for anyone who’s thinking of working for a nonprofit. Throughout all this, Chris, Steph, Aleks, Shane and the rest of the staff were extremely helpful and supportive.

While I’m sad to leave CCSE, I’m excited to see what the next communications intern will do with this position. Like I said, there’s a lot of creative freedom, and I suggest taking full advantage of that! Best of luck to you, whoever you are.

Interested in applying to be our next Communications Intern? Click here for more info. 

Collecting data and exploring one's watershed at the same time

monitoring native olympia oysters

There's a plethora of organisms that inhabit Morro Bay. The intertidal animals here reside in every nook and cranny, however the organism that we focused on monitoring today is the Olympia oyster (Ostrea lurida). These magnificent creatures are bivalve mollusks (An organism with compressed body between two shells) that filter feed. They are related to other organisms like clams and mussels. Olympia oysters are the only oyster native to the west coast of North America and play an important role in the ecosystem. Their population has been declining so it is essential to monitor populations to observe if they are recovering or not.

The method that was used for collecting data on the oysters was the line intercept transect method. Through this method we measured out a length of shoreline then used a quarter meter quadrat made of PVC pipe to measure specific areas along the line. The data we collected included number of live oysters found and their lengths. The oysters live on hard surfaces like larger rocks and cobble. Whenever an oyster was found, we used a caliper to measure the longest part of the oyster. The collection of this data will hopefully help us better understand the factors affecting these oysters so one day efforts can be made to increase their populations.    

When I am able to do field work like oyster monitoring it brings a joy out of me that is sometimes hard to describe. There were countless things going through my mind as we moved the quadrat and we flipped over rocks in search of the oysters. To my surprise we found many different types of organisms huddled together in the smallest of crevasse. This brings me back to my childhood when I used to play in the mud in search of anything alive. Observing where the oysters were attached (usually underneath rocks) and where other animals lived was extremely fascinating. Most of these animals you would expect to see submerged underwater but it is a whole other ball game in the intertidal zone. Being able to work in areas like this brings the best out of me and I can’t wait to have an experience like that again.

If you can't measure it, you can't improve it

Monitoring Steelhead trout in San Luis Obispo creek just got a little easier. San Luis Obispo City Biologist, Freddy Otte, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) installed a Dual Frequency Identification Sonar (DIDSON) in San Luis Obispo creek to monitor the fish, which are currently a threatened species in our area. DIDSON cameras use high or low frequency sound waves to create an image, allowing the viewer to see what passes in front of the lens. 

Getting the camera and gaining permission to use it in the creek has taken quite a long time for Freddy and CDFW. As members of the Watershed Stewards Program, my site partner and I shadowed Freddy, and got some insight into parts of the process for deciding on the placement of the camera.  This involves contacting several landowners next to the creek. Some landowners are very helpful and positive while others may refuse to have this activity on their property. When land owners said “Yes,” we also had to make sure there were the proper electrical hookups present to run the camera. Of course, the approving land owner is compensated for any electricity used by the DIDSON. The next step was finding a spot in the creek which was deep enough and uniform all the way across so the entire width of the creek is visible through the lens.

After some searching, we found the perfect spot for the camera. I am waiting for when there will be enough footage for us to start watching it and recording the data. Hopefully we will now be able to get a more accurate count of how many Steelhead trout we have in our creek.

Being new to this field, I’m surprised to learn that you cannot just place a camera in the water.  You have to get permits and permissions, in addition to getting cooperation from land owners. I was only there for about a month or two of the process, it is overwhelming to see the amount of time it takes to get a project up and running. By getting a chance to work on the DIDSON camera as well as other projects, I’m learning that you have to be patient and really push for what you want.  At the same time, however, you have to be mentally prepared for failure, because if something goes wrong, you may have to scrap you project.