OBX: Through the Lens

I got an opportunity to do something I love this semester. Observing, learning, creating, travelling (as much as COVID restrictions allow anyways). I met new people, listened to their stories, and discovered so much more of the Outer Banks than I would have on my own. Why did I have access to these experiences? Well, I photographed them, as a photojournalism intern with the Coastal Studies Institute’s (CSI’s) outreach department. I worked with John McCord, the outreach director, and tag-teamed a lot of my projects with another intern, Lauren Colonair. She wrote stories, I took photos for them. Lauren and I got to go on road trips, talk to researchers at CSI, and have access to an incredible amount of camera and recording equipment. Our two final projects, videos on the 2020 Outer Banks Field Site (OBXFS) and the capstone research project, are available on the CSI YouTube channel.

I also worked on projects individually. The Coastal Landscape Initiative (CLI) is a program that promotes use of native plants in landscaping on the Outer Banks. Native plants are more environmentally friendly as they are already adapted to the environment and require less pesticides and care. CSI has beautifully landscaped gardens filled with native plants. 

Many days, I would go around sunrise to photograph the flowers, insects, and plants. I enjoyed working on this project because I love spending time outside and observing nature. I can now identify a lot of the plants I see around campus and the Outer Banks. Here are a few photos I made:









My favorite part of my internship were the two personal photo projects I completed on wildlife and water. I got to work on these on my own time; they forced me to leave my room and explore the Outer Banks and stretch my creativity. I would work on these projects whenever I needed a break from class or capstone work. Usually around sunrise or sunset I would go find a new place to check out, and spend some time observing and practicing my patience before taking photos. I spent a lot of time trying to represent my subjects in unique ways. 

Bioluminescence at Coquina Beach

My internship was a great experience. It helped improve my photography and videography skills and taught me more about what I want for my future. The semester is coming to a close, but everything I learned from my internship and classes will follow me. I’m grateful for this opportunity and that I got to do something I love. Sending a huge thank you to everyone at CSI who helped make the 2020 OBX Field Site a great experience.

                                                                                                      – Heidi Hannoush, Class of 2023

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.