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Environmental Studies students assist community organizations through volunteer internships

| Academics
UPEI Environmental Studies student Ajhma Dhakal stands outside Charlottetown City Hall next to one of the city’s Electric Vehicle (EV) chargers
UPEI Environmental Studies student Ajhma Dhakal stands outside Charlottetown City Hall next to one of the city’s Electric Vehicle (EV) chargers

At the University of Prince Edward Island, experiential learning has been a core aspect of the Environmental Studies program since 2011. One way that experiential learning is incorporated into the program is through a required Environmental Studies Internship course for third-year Bachelor of Environmental Studies students.

Integral to the course is a 30-hour volunteer internship where students engage in “hands-on" learning in the environmental field with community partners, such as federal, provincial, and municipal governments; local non-governmental organizations; and the private sector. Students are provided with diverse opportunities for learning including the creation and implementation of environmental educational programs, event planning, data analysis, grant writing, and environmental field work.

Dr. Carolyn Brown, Associate Professor and Director of Environmental Studies at UPEI, believes these volunteer internship placements provide an opportunity for students to gain a better understanding of what it might be like to work in the environmental field and, in some cases, provide a steppingstone to a summer job or a future career. They also gain a better understanding of how government or other organizations work through their own placements but also as they listen to other students in the class share their experiences with various community partners.

“It increases students’ professional and critical thinking skills and provides them with an opportunity to connect the theory that they learn in the classroom with the ‘real world.’ Organizations gain from hosting energetic and talented young people who care about the environment. Since many organizations have limited personnel, the students often help out with additional tasks that are important for the community partners but which they may not have time to do, given their constraints. I am very thankful for the willingness of community partners to host students each year,” said Brown.

This fall, student Ajhma Dhakal volunteered with the City of Charlottetown’s Environment and Sustainability department through the Environmental Studies Internship course. The goal of the internship was to help the City continue to improve its existing network of electric vehicle (EV) chargers and to fill in any gaps in the infrastructure. An assessment of the current EV charging conditions in the City was carried out to help create an EV infrastructure installation strategy.

Dhakal is grateful to have had this internship opportunity in her Environmental Studies program because it allowed her to apply her academic knowledge in a work setting.

“Volunteering with the City of Charlottetown was a great experience. It allowed me to explore different career paths and helped in my personal and professional growth, which will be helpful in my future career in the environmental field.”

Alistair Ozon, water coordinator with the City of Charlottetown, said his department always looks forward to opportunities to partner with UPEI and work with students in the program.

“The internship is a great opportunity for students to learn more about what environmental challenges the City deals with and contribute to projects and initiatives aimed at addressing these challenges.”

The Environmental Studies Internship course is offered during one semester each year and counts as three credit hours towards a student’s degree. While a typical lecture course at UPEI has 36 hours of instructional time, students in this course spend fewer hours in class but dedicate 30 volunteer hours to their internship placement.

An article exploring student perspectives on the Environmental Studies Internship course over a 10-year period was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

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