July 13, 2018

For four Hampden-Sydney students, a summer at the beach means more than catching some rays—it means helping the Hatteras Island Ocean Center conserve the island's resources.

After hearing Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity brother Kyler Vela '18 rave about his summer internship on Hatteras Island, Ian Duffy '19 decided to see for himself what the fuss was about. "Kyler watched sea turtle documentaries around the clock, so I figured I should check it out," Ian joked. With an interest in corporate and environmental law, the foreign affairs major applied to the Hatteras Island Ocean Center (HIOC) Internship in hopes of receiving hands-on environmental experience. The non-profit center offers educational and recreational activities to the public with a goal to create a sustainable and economically thriving Hatteras Island year round. Ian is one of four H-SC students who landed an internship on the beaches of North Carolina this summer working for the HIOC.

Four interns pose with a sign advertising National Seashell DayThe center plays a vital role in helping with the conservation of the island and its resources, and through his work Ian has learned more than he ever expected about the natural habitat of Hatteras. From picking up a boa in the snake exhibit, to informing the public about sea turtle patrol, Ian has become an expert on the wildlife and conservation of the island. He has also immersed himself in the local culture and learned the importance of the fishing and tourist industries to the economy.

In addition to their hours at the center, interns also take an experiential learning class specifically designed to accompany the work at the HIOC. Each student is required to complete a project of their choosing that will benefit the community. Selections range from expanding the center's birding program, to exploring alternative energy, to making the island more environmentally friendly. The influence of these projects is substantial, and in some cases immediate; for example, the local coffee shop has switched to paper straws as a direct result of one intern's lobbying efforts. Designing these projects individually gives students the freedom to pursue their interests while learning to take initiative. Ian has chosen to install amber lighting on beach-front homes so that sea turtles, upon hatching, are not drawn to artificial light, therefore reducing their fatality rates. "I've never done anything like this individually," Ian continued, "so it's taught me to take ownership."

Required weekly action reports and reflections help the students track clear progress on their individual projects and keep their goals and purpose clearly in mind. The reflections culminate in an organizational experience report that covers the internship, the theory behind the project, the agency worked with, personal intentions, and an assessment of the overall experience. When their three months at the HIOC are complete, Ian and his fellow Tigers can leave with the knowledge that they have helped improve the community, and are therefore citizen leaders.