7/1/14

Former intern Sahana Rao takes Sea Grant experience to environmental law studies

It’s been two years since we launched our summer internship program, and we couldn’t be happier with the results. Our interns did great things at IISG—educated boaters on AIS prevention, investigated community perceptions of sediment remediation projects, installed a real-time buoy in Lake Michigan, and more. But their impressive work didn’t end with the summer. Several are now in graduate programs, including law school. Some moved on to internships focused on Great Lakes monitoring and renewable engineering. And a few have even stayed at IISG. 

To celebrate the program’s two-year anniversary, we go back to where it all began with a four-part series showcasing our first round of interns—what they did and where they are now. Our second interview is with Sahana Rao.   
  
What did you work on while interning with IISG?
I worked with Margaret Schneemann on water issues in Chicago and northeastern Illinois. I mainly worked on research and text for an outdoor water conservation guidebook aimed at stakeholders in northern Illinois. The guidebook explains the need for outdoor water conservation and outlines ecological, economic, and legislative strategies to promote conservation. I also helped a little bit with the Lawn to Lake program, which encourages the use of natural and organic fertilizers and gardening practices that reduce nutrient runoff into Lake Michigan.

What did you like most about your internship?
The work I did during my internship with IISG was very interdisciplinary, so I never got bored—if I had had enough of turf science for the day, I could always switch to reading about lawn watering ordinances. I also got to explore the benefits of and connections between different aspects of water conservation that I might never have considered otherwise. 

What are you doing now? If you are in school, what are you studying? If you are working, who with and doing what?
I am working towards my J.D. at New York University School of Law. I’ll be a second year in the fall and plan to pursue a career in environmental law once I graduate. I’m back in Chicago for the summer, doing a legal internship at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. My work here ranges from researching questions that might be raised in a permit appeal to writing memos on broad legal issues to helping attorneys prepare for oral arguments. Through this internship, I have learned more about the environmental implications of zoning and nuisance law, the regulatory framework created by the Clean Water Act, and new approaches to reducing pollution, such as water quality credit trading. And I’m looking forward to learning much more as the summer continues!

How did your time with IISG help prepare you for law school?
Working with Sea Grant was a unique experience because I got to explore environmental issues –particularly water issues—from several different angles. I think the main takeaway I got from this internship is that environmental issues tend to exist on the intersection of science, economics, behavioral psychology, and law. The projects I worked on with Margaret inspired me to do a senior thesis on urban water management in developing countries, in which my goal was to examine the relative success of the strategies used by six water utilities to meet their constituents’ needs. These strategies incorporated both law and economics, and they varied in response to different water resource conditions, so the skills I learned while working with IISG came in handy.

In general, I’ve tried to apply this mindset to my education as much as possible. I learned that being an effective advocate for the environment requires a certain level of versatility. During college, I supplemented my environmental science degree with minors in psychology and economics. In law school, I plan on taking classes like Corporations, Tax, and International Law in addition to environmental law courses so that I can better understand how the pieces of the global-environmental-puzzle fit together.

What advice would you have for future IISG interns or those considering applying? 
Do it! IISG internships are a great opportunity to not only expand your knowledge of environmental issues in the Midwest but also to develop essential skills like researching and writing for a variety of audiences. You get to work with and learn from highly qualified folks in really cool settings—whether you’re in downtown Chicago or on a boat on one of the Great Lakes.
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For the latest information on fellowship and internship opportunities, visit our fellowship page regularly.

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