By Darrow Vanderburgh-Wertz
The day after finals ended, I packed up all my stuff and, the next morning, hit the road for Charleston, SC. Though at the moment I was regretting the decision to start my internship the Monday after finals ended, I was super excited about working on a food shed mapping project for GrowFood Carolina, a food hub that is a program of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League (an environmental non-profit based in Charleston).
What is a food shed mapping project, you say? What is a food hub, you might ask? Broadly, a food shed mapping involves explaining where a certain city or region – in this case, Charleston – currently gets its food (usually, from very far away) and what the potential is of the surrounding region to feed the city.
A food hub is essentially a food distributor with a mission. A food hub aggregates produce or meat from farmers and markets and distributes the food to restaurants and grocery stores. Like other food distributors, food hubs strive to turn a profit. But, as opposed to most food distributors, food hubs explicitly seek to support small local farmers and/or distribute food to areas that lack access to fresh produce. Essentially, food hubs want to be a link in a local/regional food system the benefits producers and consumers.
Anyway, the point is that this internship was a perfect fit for my interests and I was pumped!
I show up to the first day of work. Upon meeting my very nice supervisor, she enthusiastically declares, “I am so excited to have you and your ArcGIS mapping skill set here! I’ve been talking forever about having a map of what is grown in the area and what the potential is for expanding production – I am so jazzed to have you make it this summer!”
What?! Wait, what?! She thinks I know ArcGIS? She thinks I am some sort of GIS mapping expert? I think back to my interview (which was with an employee who is no longer with the organization) and recall how when asked about whether I knew ArcGIS, I had distinctly said, “No.” I panic, say nothing, and respond with what was likely a very awkward smile.
It takes me a full day to work up the courage to so supremely disappoint my new supervisor. Finally, I tell her that there has been some sort of miscommunication. In fact, I’ve never touched ArcGIS and had understood the food shed mapping project in a much broader sense of the word “mapping.” She stares at me for a half-second and then asks, “Well, are you willing to learn?” I say yes.
So, here I am, three weeks in, I’ve read the entire ArcGIS manual, collected oodles of data, found and picked the brain of somebody who actually knows ArcGIS, and have a pretty good idea of how I’m going to make this map. And, though it’s not quite what I expected to be doing, it’s been fun, learning something completely new from scratch, essentially by myself.
What have I learned from this experience? That you should probably talk to the person that is your direct supervisor before you take a position AND that sometimes a little miscommunication is a good thing. Oh, and a lot of ArcGIS!
(An aside: I got the position through the Stanback Internship program, which, if you don’t know, is a one-of-a-kind program at Duke. Mr. Stanback, a very generous Duke Alum, chooses several dozen environmental organizations each summer to create internship positions for which only Duke students can apply. He then pays the Duke students that fill these positions.)