T<3M – Interning with the Town of Manteo

My internship for the the fall 2018 OBXFS semester has been with the wonderful Town of Manteo.  Centrally located in downtown Manteo, a pleasant 5-minute bike ride from our Manteo home, interning with the Town of Manteo has been one of my favorite parts of this semester.

The Town of Manteo is where all of the magic happens – it’s where public works, planning, police, water and sewer, and special events collide.  The people in Town Hall keep Manteo beautiful and running smoothly, while involving community members and listening to and supporting their ideas.

I’ve been working for Melissa Dickerson; a whip smart, tree hugging individual who is dedicated to her job in her (almost) hometown of Manteo.  Every Monday and every other Wednesday this semester, Melissa and I have been primarily working on the Community Rating System (CRS).  I spent many of my first few days reading up and gaining a better understanding of the complex FEMA program – essentially, communities can participate in CRS through accomplishing certain tasks that prevent the negative impacts of flooding on properties, and, in doing so, they accrue points that add up to a class rating which results in discounted flood insurance premiums for property owners.  The more activities the town completes, the better the discount for flood insurance policy owners.  I’ve helped to examine and understand flood zone maps; write, address, and mail out letters; and keep track of our documentation for our projects. I also participated in some damage assessments following hurricane Michael (pictured).

Photographing damage in Pirate’s Cove after hurricane Michael

While that has been my primary focus, I have also enjoyed seeing how Melissa works and how the town as a whole functions.  I’ve had the opportunity to get to know all of the department heads and understand more about what each of them do – from managing water and sewer to keeping all of the town’s files perfectly organized and accessible, to planning the Christmas celebration.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into with this local government internship, and I still don’t know if it’s where I’ll end up, but I’ve learned so much in my time with the Town of Manteo and have walked away with an overwhelmingly positive outlook on how local government works and an increased appreciation for all that they do.  This is a result of being a part of a relaxed, community-minded workplace environment.  I’m so thankful for the opportunity to live the beautiful outer banks of North Carolina, and I’m so thankful for having the chance to get to know TOM (pictured), and the many friendly faces that make up Manteo Town Hall.

One of my goals was to convince TOM to hang out with me in Melissa’s office, so I was delighted when Kermit Skinner, town manager, captured this photo

 

 

 

 

 

Swamps, ropes courses, and planes, oh my!

      Our second week of orienting ourselves to our surroundings here in the Outer Banks proved to be as fun and informative as the first.  A brief overview includes hiking in the swamp, completing the equivalent of most of a 300 level GIS class in one day, and taking turns flying in a tiny plane, but I’ll zoom in closer on some of the highlights.

Monday was our first official Community Advisory Board (CAB) meeting – we all gathered in a meeting room at the Nags Head Woods Preserve and got to know each other over enormous sandwiches, chips, and cookies.  We enjoyed rotating through stations of CAB members to bounce our project ideas off of them and hear where their concerns lay in wastewater management. Following our lunch, a few CAB members and our motley crew of 13 went for a short guided walk through the woods.  With no shortage of “get out me swamp!” references, we saw turtles, snakes, grasshoppers, and lots of spiders.  

Students and CAB members admire snakes, birds, and turtles in Nags Head Woods Preserve.

“Get out me swamp!” – probably someone while I took this picture when we first arrived

On Tuesday, we remembered very fondly the previous day’s exploration in the woods as the day was filled with what Andy’s daughter (and current UNC grad student and GIS expert), Cory, aptly names “GIS headaches.”  We were inside all day, looking at computers for most of it, and very confused for a large majority. I think everytime she asked if we were ‘all good’ my response was a confused ‘no,’ and anytime she asked if anyone needed help she looked straight at me as my hand went up and computer screen filled with things that no one else was looking at.  We can all agree, however,  that finishing the day with somewhat decent-looking, hopefully accurate maps of water temperature, pH, and E. coli in Dare county was an extremely satisfying experience.  The workshop is epitomized in the below picture of Kat:

Kat visually demonstrating how we all were feeling, photo credits to Emma Szczesiul

 

After such a frustrating day, Wednesday easily ranks as one of the best of the semester so far for me.  From 10AM-3PM we were outside together completing group bonding activities like champs and then climbing like monkeys on the high ropes course.  The course was challenging and incredibly fun – with three vertical levels each consisting of 3 different courses, it’s safe to say most of us finished the day bruised, sore, with huge smiles on our faces. The physically exhausting day was topped off with a wonderfully relaxing evening on the beach.

 

I don’t think any of us really realized just how soon all of the group dynamics information would become so scarily relevant – but Thursday sure showed us exactly that.  After staying up Wednesday night to finish our individual proposals, we spent Thursday afternoon reading and critiquing each others and then trying to agree on two ideas to expand upon for our group proposals.  There was lots of back and forth, but not as much arguing and stalemate as one might expect from a 13 person group project, luckily we had our handy group dynamics toolbox from the previous days’ workshop to thank for that. After hashing it out a bit at CSI, we met up again at the house to complete and turn in both proposals by 10PM the day before they were due with minimal interpersonal damage sustained, which I count as a group win in my book.

 

I’ll end this post with a photo series to describe our beautiful Friday morning plane rides over the outer banks.

 

From left, Danesha, Marium, Autumn, and Jenn begin boarding the five passenger plane.  Jenn and I rock-paper-scissored for the cockpit position.

Autumn and Marium were all smiles with their headsets on just before taking off…

 

A view of Jockey’s Ridge from above – making it look a lot more flat than it felt climbing up the dunes.

 

A selfie to commemorate Danesha’s FIRST EVER plane ride!

I find myself constantly needing to remind myself (and anyone who’ll listen) that “We LIVE here!!!!” – looking at this picture is one of those moments

A group picture with our pilot

We talked to this beautiful pup’s owner and pilot in training the entire time the last group was in the air – I think we all came away from the conversation seriously considering getting a pilot’s license.

 

From left: Danesha, Lynn, Alex, Harris, and Marium leaving the beach.  That’s a wrap on orientation, folks.