McKenzie Blaine

Intern name: McKenzie Blaine

Major(s)/Minor(s): Environmental Studies major and Biology minor 

Title/place of internship/fellowship, etc.: Virtual Program Assistant at non-profit organization City Sprouts 

How did you find out about your internship/fellowship/etc.? I knew I wanted to work for a nonprofit organization that provides nutritional food to members of the Omaha community, which is my hometown. I started researching sustainable urban farms in Omaha and I asked various friends about any experience they had with urban farms and ultimately, it led me to City Sprouts.

What were your responsibilities at your internship/fellowship/etc.? During the course of my internship, I completed various online tasks that were predominantly centered around educational programming and curriculum planning. I organized files containing previous class curriculum as well as made new programs for the Education Manager. Along with that, I was able to cohost virtual classes with the Education Manager and then construct my own virtual class in which I independently taught.

What was the most beneficial aspect of your experience? Something I benefited the most from my internship was having the opportunity to see what it is like to work for a very small organization. The staff at City Sprouts was approximately six full-time employees. I was able to learn that I love the feeling of a small and intimate work environment. I also recognized, though, the difficulties of health care and benefits when working for such a small nonprofit.

What was the most surprising thing you experienced or learned during your internship/fellowship/etc.? The most surprising thing I learned during the course of my internship was the fact that nonprofits can easily sink or swim, depending on the management of funding. If there is a person with little ambition that is in a place of power for a nonprofit, they can easily miss a lot of grant opportunities and thus, let the organization sink.

How can you apply what you experienced at your internship/fellowship/etc. in the future? Though I have learned so many useful skills from my internship at City Sprouts, I will narrow down the experiences I gained to three transferable skills that I will be able to utilize in the future. One: the ability to have self-discipline when it comes to working from home. When I first started my position at City Sprouts, I found it very difficult to concentrate on my work and get things done efficiently. I am easily distracted, so having the leniency of working from my backyard made things a bit difficult at first. Then, very gradually, I was able to set a routine for myself in which I acknowledged when I was slowing down on my work and allowed myself to get up, go for a walk, or get some extra coffee. Two: Recognizing the importance of community and partnerships. A lot of the work that City Sprouts is able to achieve would be impossible if it were not for the amazing support that they get from community members and other organizations. Lastly, number three: Understanding more broadly the meaning of a sustainable urban farm and what it looks like. Before my internship, I identified sustainability as the ecological health and stability of a given environment. Now, my concept of sustainability is much more thorough. I have come to realize - after seeing the interworking components of City Sprouts - that a sustainable urban farm needs to have economic stability, a healthy work environment, good relationships and partnerships, cultural accessibility, and a functioning ecosystem. Sustainability has many facets and I am fortunate to have realized this now so that I can use this knowledge when looking for a sustainable career. 

What advice would you offer to future students interested in this experience? Try to avoid going into your job with preconceived expectations of the things you will be doing. I had anticipated being outside almost everyday, working on the farm and pulling up weeds. Even though the pandemic inhibited that for me, even if I had not done strictly virtual work, I still would have been doing a lot of office jobs. You do not get to create your position, but the people you are working for get to decide what tasks they need you to help with.