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Breanna Dew and Katelyn Montrief collaborate on a project.
Education: Internships provide lessons in sustainability
By Emily Topper
Sustainable development is on the agenda in Georgetown County, and the next generation of county leaders are already tackling the challenge head-on.
A group of Coastal Carolina University students spent the spring semester as interns for local government agencies and nonprofits in Georgetown County. They will be followed this summer by another group who will intern at area businesses.
The partnership with the Bunnelle Foundation is intended to foster sustainable development goals. “The sustainable development goal of encouraging youth development for a better planet means encouraging youth development for a better Georgetown County,” said Pam Martin, a Coastal Carolina professor of politics and international relations who leads the program.
She also led the effort to have the county designated as a United Nations Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development. It has the backing of local government, nonprofits and universities. The effort has shortened its name to Georgetown RISE, an acronym for resilience, innovation, sustainability and education.
The 15 interns get a stipend from the university in the form of course credit and $1,250 from their employers. The Bunnelle Foundation sponsored four of the initial internships.
“Breaking into internships and partnering with Coastal Carolina University to bring more young people and more opportunity together in Georgetown County is what we’re all about,” said Geales Sands, the foundation’s executive director. “We hope we are planting seeds, not only among these students, that there are opportunities in Georgetown County, but also amongst the businesses that you can grow your own workforce.”
Along with their internships, the students take a class on sustainable development goals. By meeting as a class, the students are able to share ideas and help each other with projects. “You may have one intern, but you probably have 15,” Martin said.
At a recent class at the Coastal Carolina facility on Front Street in Georgetown, Martin asked students to share their biggest challenges and accomplishments from the prior two weeks. Some are organizing the upcoming Tour de Plantersville for the nonprofit Village Group. Others are working on sustainability projects and emergency preparedness. The goal of the class is for the students to create a network of resources, allowing their efforts to extend beyond their individual internships.
Katelyn Montrief, an intern with the town of Pawleys Island, has a passion for Excel spreadsheets. She’s working on fundraising for the new Town Hall.
“They’re engraving bricks that the town can sell online,” Montrief said. “I’m also working on updating the website, specifically the emergency preparedness section. That’s what I really like to do, so I’m excited about that.”
Montrief interned with emergency management on the Coastal Carolina campus last semester before her current internship. She is an intelligence and national security major who one day hopes to work for FEMA. The hands-on experience she gets through her internship and the class, she said, are vital in preparing her for her first job after graduation and beyond.
“The goal really is bringing this younger generation of college students to the county to help the economy and to help the county flourish,” she said. “Over the next couple of years, we are hoping to grow Georgetown County and bring different aspects to it. We all come together. It’s really nice in the class because you basically have contacts with everyone and anyone in the county. It offers you a lot of insight that you might not have known about. You can graduate with a degree and not really know what you want to do with it, but having internship experience helps you know what you want to do in the future.”
Breanna Dew is interning with the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning. While she originally wanted to attend law school after graduating in December 2018, Dew said she now wants to earn her master’s degree in public administration. Through her internship, she can make recommendations on the department’s modernizing and updating of existing ordinances.
“I always keep the sustainable development goals in mind when I’m making these recommendations,” Dew said. “The class is really cool. We only meet once a week, but when we do it’s for two hours and we discuss what we’re doing individually and in the community. Something that I’m working on might coincide with something that someone else is working on, so that helps us get together and collaborate.”
Dew said earning her master’s would enable her “to stay in the area and continue the work that I’ve started.”
Students have also worked at the Georgetown Innovation Center, the City of Georgetown, the National Estuarine Research Reserve, Surfrider Foundation, Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments and other county departments.
“Anyone we talk to in the county has been encouraging,” Dew said. “I really feel like they’ll start to implement some of these things, if they haven’t already.”
For Montrief, the spring semester internship has turned into a summer job. “She’s been a great help,” Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said. He got approval from Town Council this week to put her on the payroll at a cost of $6,240. “It will be less money spent in other places,” he said.
She is due to graduate in December, and Fabbri said this will be the first summer she has spent in South Carolina.
While Montrief will help answer the phone at Town Hall and sell T-shirts for the island’s Fourth of July parade, she will also help the town with documenting its efforts to reduce flood damage through FEMA’s Community Rating System. The town has a Class 6 rating, which provides property owners with a 20 percent discount of flood insurance premiums. Montrief’s work could pay for itself.