Interning with Dare County’s Planning Department

Hey, everyone! 

My name is Gabriella Paone, and I am a sophomore at the Outer Banks Field Site. I am a political science major but chose to participate in the field site because of my interest in the environment. Before coming to Manteo, everyone from the field site met with Corey Adams, the internship coordinator. During my meeting, I gave Corey very little to work with as I had no idea what I wanted my internship to look like, or even who I would like to work for. I told him I was interested in public government, but that I did not have a preference to be placed anywhere. Thankfully, Corey was able to get creative and placed me with the Dare County planning department. 

One topic I was asked to research – the demographics of Dare County

I have been working with Donna Creef, who is the planning director of Dare County. The work I have been doing has been quite relevant to the things I have learned in Professor D’Anna’s class, which teaches about coastal management practices. My work over the course of the semester has been assisting Donna in updating Dare County’s land-use plan for the new zoning ordinance. Per North Carolina state laws, coastal land use plans must be updated every five years to ensure management procedures are up to date and still efficient. This allows states to develop coastal management programs and includes coastal communities within this process. Donna Creef’s job to update this plan is immensely important to ensure that development and protecting the environment is a balanced act in the Outer Banks. 

A map made using GIS, which classifies land uses

Throughout my internship, I have mostly assisted Donna with creating tables, research, and making the land-use plan overall look more presentable and easier to understand. I have written up documents for multiple sections of the land use plan including demographics, locating maps, and have become familiar with other zoning ordinances to look at similarities. Dare County also has its own “GIS guy” who I used information from to make new classifications of land uses. As a non-environment major, it was cool to see the skill be used to solve a current knowledge gap within Dare County. Although the zoning ordinance is a government document, it is important that the zoning ordinance is accessible to everyone, especially developers who need to adhere to the guidelines within. I had the chance to write up a few drafts for various sections of the land use plan and had to consider that those reading this may not know the technical terminology of planning. Coming into this internship with no prior knowledge of zoning helped me to make sure the sections I wrote were easy to understand to any audience.

I have enjoyed working under a local government department, as it allows me to learn more about the place I have lived for the past semester. While it has been a challenge to work remotely, especially with unfamiliar terminology and concepts used in planning, I have appreciated expanding my knowledge about the importance of local government practices. Before my internship, I had no idea what a planning director or department actually did, but I have now realized the importance of giving smaller communities greater influence and choice to handle issues that impact them. I have enjoyed my internship because it has opened my eyes to more career paths that help people and the environment simultaneously. 

-Gabriella Paone, Class of 2023

First week of sampling!

Over the past few weeks of our field site, we have been doing LOTS of talking. We have devoted countless hours to discussing various aspects of our research, including the survey which we will be sending out to Nags Head residents. While our survey and background knowledge for the capstone will be vital in the next few weeks, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t ready for a change of pace. This week was the first time we as students were able to go out to our different sampling locations to collect our water samples. When we first began discussing the instruments we would be using at the sites and in the lab, I was quite nervous and unsure if I would be able to understand much.

Most people at the field site are either environmental science or studies majors, but I have not had much experience with science at all. As a political science major, I have been mostly in humanities classes which means I knew virtually nothing about the collection and analysis of our samples. Earlier in the week, I was getting pretty anxious about not knowing if I would be able to pull my weight with the rest of the group.

Thanks to how helpful Lindsay was by devoting her day to spend with each group, I was able to fully understand how the instruments worked and was able to participate with my classmates. Once the process got started, it was not intimidating at all and I ended up enjoying it. I was able to use the YSI tool to gather measurements of various factors that impacted the water quality at the sites. I also learned how to measure the depth to the water from the top of the well using a probing instrument.

After spending so much time watching online lectures and having recitations, it was refreshing to be able to get some hands-on experience for the day. It was also quite rewarding for me personally, as this was the first experience I had with collecting data and analyzing it. While the collection was fun, my favorite part of the day was going back to the lab to prepare the samples for analysis the next day. While it was time-consuming, it was nice to see how we are able to take the samples and make something out of them. It was satisfying to make everything come together and give meaning to our water.


Overall, I am grateful for this experience and how it pushes me out of my comfort zone. The field site is allowing me to expand my skill set and become a more well-rounded student and individual. At times I still feel a little lost when everyone starts using unfamiliar science-y jargon, but I like knowing that I am able to learn something new every day.

~Gabriella Paone (Class of 2023)