OBXFS and Coastal Planning: Interning with the Town of Nags Head

My coursework through the OBXFS has been greatly supplemented through my internship placement with the Principal Planner in the Town of Nags Head. Holly White, long time Nags Head resident and Principal Planner for the municipality, has so graciously been exposing me to the inner workings of the town and providing learning experiences on how local government works. Acting as somewhat of an all-purpose helper, I’ve helped Holly with town preparations for CRS inspections as well as furthered my own environmental education messaging projects. My projects have surrounded effective messaging on environmental issues and information via social media. I have been creating Instagram posts, Facebook write-ups, tweets and a social media posting plan for future interns.

When corresponding with Corey about internship placement preferences, I told him that the most useful experience for me personally, would give me more context for understanding what career paths will make me feel the most fulfilled. After exploring the list together and reading internship blog posts from previous years, I came to believe that interning with a municipality would be a perfect fit for completing that goal. From my first call connecting with Holly, I knew that COVID-19 circumstances wouldn’t hinder our ability to work together. Interested in both my academic and emotional transition to the Outer Banks, Holly always took time to understand my perspectives and make our work together as impactful, relevant and engaging as possible. Coming into my internship, it was already predetermined that my work would be environmentally focused; the format of my work however, was something Holly and I developed together. After discussing a need for more outreach, specifically in the realm of social media, Holly and I decided that I would explore the Town’s social media presence and find ways to increase its effectiveness. The social media campaigns we’ve developed have been for both short-term and long-term use. Spot-light, information-dense campaigns would run for roughly three weeks, with weekly or biweekly posts. On the other hand, long-term campaigns – sparser and more simplistic in information – would run for six months or longer.

My experience with the Town of Nags Head was enhanced by Holly’s willingness to introduce me to her coworkers and connect me better with the rest of the department and town staff. From arranging calls with herself, Kate Jones, (engineering technician and the Town’s point-person on stormwater management) and Kylie Shephard , (another environmental planner in the Planning Department) to better inform me on the Town’s management strategies, to letting me sit in on staff meetings and see how decisions get made, Holly made sure that my internship taught me more than just what we discussed as experience deliverables.

Here is the title slide of a “Word of the Week” post, meant to draw in the audience with its simplicity

My favorite campaign we developed is a long-term campaign titled “Word of the Week” which aims to simplify scientific terms related to septic system health, climate change and other environmental concerns of the town. “Word of the Week” tries to ‘make science simple’ so that residents are better able to understand and contextualize Town recommendations and plans, hopefully empowering them to become more involved in communal problem-solving. “Word of the Week” is a campaign that could continue into the foreseeable future. There will always be work to be done closing the knowledge gaps that exist between researchers and residents.

Here are two of the informational slides. I believed that this campaign would be the most effective if there was as little jargon as possible.
Fun Fact: Holly is actually the one who suggested the utilization of memes (which as a young adult I was extremely fond of), stating that the residents were extremely receptive to ‘Dad Jokes’

All in all, my internship experience has provided me with useful real-world experience and connections to the Outer Banks that I will take beyond my time at the fieldsite. Thank you to the OBXFS professors and coordinators for arranging this experience and thank you to Holly White for your time and patience. I may not want to work in local government but I have definitely gained a greater appreciation of the inner workings of government and the nuances of public service. Go out and vote; remain civically engaged and make the work of your public officials more efficient and effective. Governance has always been a communal endeavor and needs to remain so! Apathy will be the death of our democracy.