Natalie Northrup ’22 is an incoming junior in the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Working from home is a challenge. I made it through the end of spring semester and I will make it through another semester this fall, but working from home for the World Bank this summer has been a different kind of challenge.
My work with the Bank was made possible by the MIT Washington DC Summer Internship Program (MITDC), a program run by the Political Science (17) Department. The program funds travel and housing for 10-20 MIT students who have in interest in science policy and are looking to work in Washington, D.C. In a traditional year, the student cohort attends seminars and networking sessions while in D.C. for their internships, and participates in a 12-unit class, split between spring and fall semester, to help provide context for their summer work.
The program caught my attention after an internship working with brownfield site remediation in the Rust Belt. During the internship I learned just how important environmental regulations are in maintaining good stewardship of the environment. Many of the companies we worked with cleaned up sites or installed systems because there were regulations or subsidies to promote those behaviors. This example of the importance of government regulation inspired me to look at policy as a path to greater sustainability.
With this interest, I applied for the MITDC program in January and by the end of February knew I was accepted. From there, I reached out to think tanks, congressional committees, and other organizations in the D.C. area, using contacts from previous years of the program and applying for posted internships. Through a connection made by a connection of the program, I ended up with a position in urban systems analytics at the World Bank.
When the coronavirus came full swing to the U.S. the program decided not to cancel for the summer, but to have all internships and seminars take place remotely. Though it was great to still have a job for the summer, this news was really disappointing. This meant no more meeting other MIT students and UVA students (the summer programming is a joint effort between MIT and UVA) while we all lived together in dorms, no more walking around the Capital in professional clothing (passing as a VIP to anyone who didn’t get too close), no more watching the 4th of July celebration on the National Mall, and most unfortunately, no more workplace culture and networking opportunities.
This brings us back to my initial point: working from home has been a challenge. I thrive on human connection. Building relationships with coworkers and peers is something that brings me joy alongside the work I am doing. It creates trust that leads me to coworkers when I need a question answered or need help finding direction for the project. It gives me exposure to the many different paths I could take to bringing positive change to the world.
But alas, we persevere. In my position for the Bank, I am working with environmental indicators, traffic data, and industry data to analyze pollution levels in Romanian cities. With this position I have strengthened my data analytics skills, making the available datasets workable, identifying correlations, and presenting the results in illustrative figures. I have also had more responsibility for my work than ever before. The internship started with my supervisor presenting the dataset and telling me ‘Do something interesting with it.’ So, I brainstormed and then got started. Now, nine weeks later, I am working on a report on urban sensor networks that will be supplementary material for the urban policy being presented to the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration in December. The goal is for this report to aid the country of Romania in effectively using funds from the EU’s Green Deal while building a monitoring network that will accurately inform environmental and quality-of-life measures moving forward.
It has been a challenge working from home on a largely self-motivated project, but challenges are opportunities for growth and I can definitely say I grew as a scientist, employee, and student this summer
My interest in science policy is not short lived. After this internship, I am excited for future opportunities to combine my technical skills with policy goals to design a more sustainable future!