My Externship @ The Aspen Institute

The Energy and Environments sector of the Aspen Institute functions like a family. The close-knit team of 8 or so comfortably and seamlessly transitions from conversations about their New Year’s resolutions and barre class to incredibly orchestrated environmental summits and forums. When Joy and I arrived on Monday, we were quickly incorporated into the team’s usual tasks. Joy and I settled into their small team meeting room for the week; this meant that phone calls with speakers or team meetings became meetings that we were now a part of.

the most meaningful part of the week was the coffee chats with a few of the individual team members.

On our first day, we joined the rest of the Aspen Institute in their first day back from the New
Year’s break— a day characterized by email catch up, two or three-person meetings to remind
one another of impending deadlines, chats about vacations and family, and lots of coffee. Joy
and I were given various research assignments throughout the week. The first was about water
access forums and proposed cities. After thorough research on water issues facing the US, we
proposed 5 cities in different US regions with distinct water challenges and presented it to the
team. Later, we were given natural gas-related questions to research and set to it. The task, like many at Aspen, was familiar to us as UVa students. Both Global Studies and environmentally focused students, Joy and I were confident in our research and formatting abilities and produced a brief and informative fact sheet for the team.

We produced a few other well-researched briefs for the team, but the most meaningful part of
the week was the coffee chats with a few of the individual team members. They taught me the
following:
1. You’re not stuck where you end up. There’s pressure to stay somewhere for a year or
two, an unspoken commitment. Kate, a CU Boulder grad, emphasized that this isn’t the
reality— if you don’t like it, apply elsewhere. It’s not worth being unhappy to fulfill a
fabricated requirement.
2. Get your foot in the door. Kitty, a Middlebury graduate, started at the Aspen Institute this
past summer. She knew she wanted to work in DC, so she applied for their fellowship in
Aspen. When the staff from the Energy & Environment office visited over the summer,
she took the opportunity to meet with them. Now Kitty works in development for the EEP
office and is where she wants to be.
3. The people you work with are important. Anna, a brown graduate currently in a Masters
program, talked about her path to Aspen. She, like Kitty, started in a short term Aspen
role as a fellow in the Aspen Strategy Group and worked her way into the EEP office
after the end of her fellowship. She’s currently doing her masters in DC while she works
and what makes this realistic is her team. Anna mentioned that the program director,
Greg, is encouraging and understanding.

The week was honest. We were not presented with an orchestrated week of impressive
meetings and presentations or given projects that would never be used; instead, we saw how
the office functions in its natural state. I now have a better understanding what I’m looking for in my post grad career and hope to stay in touch with the incredible people at the Aspen Institute.