A new internship program on P.E.I. is giving recent graduates a chance to learn about climate change, and how it is affecting the organization that they are working with, now or in the future.

Twelve interns started in January 2021, and will be in the program for a full year, and a second round of six-month internships starts in June.

“The idea is for these individuals to go into their selected host organization, work on a climate adaptation project, and hopefully build capacity within the individuals themselves, and within their host organizations,” said Ross Dwyer from UPEI’s school of climate change and adaptation. 

The host organizations are from the public and private sector.

Ross Dwyer is manager of research partnerships at UPEI’s school of climate change and adaptation and helps co-ordinate the ClimateSense program. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

“What we’ve tried to do with this project is take a real cross-spectrum of organizations and departments, whether it’s the Department of Health and Wellness, for example, or the arts community,” Dwyer said.

“Everybody’s affected by climate change, and so we wanted to have climate change projects in as many areas as we could.”

Building expertise

The ClimateSense internship positions are funded through a partnership between Natural Resources Canada, the provincial government and UPEI.

Intern Julia Richardson set up insect traps as part of a project she’s doing with the P.E.I. Agriculture Department. (ClimateSense)

“Everybody’s worried about climate change and how to adapt to it, however, the expertise isn’t quite there,” said Krystal Pyke, the intern professional development co-ordinator with the program.

“So the goal of the program is to bring in people who are new to the field, who don’t necessarily have that experience, but help build that within themselves through professional development, as well as hands-on experience.”

Krystal Pyke is the intern professional development co-ordinator with the ClimateSense program. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Pyke organizes professional development sessions for the interns, who get together weekly, including skills such as policy and project management, even mental health awareness training. 

“Climate change is hugely emotionally impactful. It’s our futures, it’s our safety, it’s for our children,” Pyke said.

“A lot of times when you work in that field, it’s really hard on you emotionally, to walk into that every day.”

The ClimateSense interns also get together regularly for professional development sessions, such as this one on mental health awareness training. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Pyke said learning to work as a team is also an important skill. 

“Climate change isn’t just a one topic, one person in charge of it. It requires a lot of people talking together, on a lot of different levels,” Pyke said. 

“Learning how to work between governments, between organizations, and collaborating on these things that are really important, is a skill that we’re hoping that these interns can have when they leave this program.”

‘A chance to learn’

Intern Abhishek Pokharel is building on research on wastewater that he did as part of his master’s degree at UPEI.

“My degree is in sustainable design engineering and I have an undergrad in environmental engineering so this is field-related work for me,” Pokharel said.

“You get a chance to do what you have learned all your life, and you get a chance to learn as well from people specific to this field. So that’s what attracted me to it.” 

Intern Abhishek Pokharel is building on research on wastewater that he did as part of his master’s degree at UPEI’s school of sustainable design engineering. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Pokharel’s work centres on Stratford’s wastewater pumping stations.

“The town of Stratford has 15 kilometres of coastline, and 15 to 16 of those pumping stations lie very close to the coastal areas,” Pokharel said.

“So I’m looking into what are the effects of climate change, like coastal erosion, storm surges, infiltration due to change in precipitation.”

Pokharel said one of the best parts of the internship has been seeing the inner workings of a municipality, working with council members and staff of the town. 

Stratford Coun. Darren MacDougall stands with Pokharel at one of the town’s pumping stations. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Stratford Coun. Darren MacDougall said the ClimateSense program was a good opportunity for his municipality.

“We have a lot of coastline surrounding the town, so climate change is of the utmost importance to us and mitigating any of the negative impacts of climate change on our town,” said MacDougall, chair of the town’s sustainability committee.

“To have that pool to draw from, with their expertise in the field that they’re studying, is of the utmost importance to us as Islanders.”

Future funding

The internships are also part of a larger project called ClimateSense, which includes professional development training around climate change. 

Dwyer said the internship program is being monitored and evaluated by an independent group, as part of the funding agreement.

But he said he is already seeing the impact.

The host organizations include the Abegweit First Nation, Actions Femmes I.P.É, the Canadian Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation, the City of Charlottetown, Creative P.E.I., Island Nature Trust, the Municipality of Victoria, the Prince Edward Island Watershed Alliance, the Town of Stratford, University of Prince Edward Island and the Wind Energy Institute of Canada. (Krystal Pyke/ClimateSense)

“What this has allowed a lot of organizations to do is to create partnerships with other organizations interested in climate, or across government departments, for example,” Dwyer said.

“This has allowed them also to look further afield at funding opportunities from federal resources, or international resources in terms of climate, just because they now have those partnerships within the community, and with other organizations doing climate work.” 

Dwyer said the hope is to find funding for more interns when this program ends in March 2022.

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