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Conservation Conversations with interns Eliza Young & Lily Bertles



Interview conducted by NVCT Communications Coordinator Aaron Kershaw


We recently sat down and chatted with Eliza Young and Lily Bertles from St. Stephens & St. Agnes High School in Alexandria, Virginia, to discuss their internship experiences with NVCT. We explore their working style, friendship, and what type of careers they might see for themselves. Read about these bright young women and learn how this experience has helped them learn more about conservation and what they want to do in their education and careers to make a difference.


Aaron (interviewer):

All right, I'm very excited to do this interview with you both. And I have a series of questions, but first, how different was your experience from what you expected?

Eliza:

Oh, this was very different from what I expected. Because when we first started here, and when we were planning to come here, I didn't really know what went into conservation. I didn't know all the different sides to it. So getting to learn about the political advocacy side, and also the community outreach, getting to do design stuff, I did not have any idea that could play a part into conservation. So that was really interesting and exciting for me to learn that it encompasses so much more than I originally thought.

Lily:

Yeah, I didn't know that doing this would incorporate some of the other things that I'm interested in, like politics and communication. And the DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging), I kind of thought that this would be more "sciency. Testing water quality, or stream cleanups and stuff that I'm glad that it was more in my area of reign. Like communications, I loved designing stuff, that was really fun. And talking to Alan about all the lobbying that goes into this. And the political side of it. I just never really thought about that. And also learning about what conservation easements are and what a land trust is. I mean, I didn't really have much idea when I was going into this.


Eliza:

I didn't know there was a whole legal side to it. Much bigger than I thought it was.

Aaron:

Awesome. So what is your individual working style, and what's your working style as a team?

Eliza:

I think we work together well, going back and forth on different ideas and stuff. Especially with the design, we did that together, going back and forth.

I think probably personally working on my own, I'm really detailed. Lily knows I really get intense about research. So that's where I'm more serious. But I feel like I have more fun, and I'm more creative when I'm collaborating with Lily.

Lily:

I feel like working with Eliza, she really keeps me on task... Sometimes I will get distracted. And if I'm working on something by myself, like, when I did graphic design in school, I would spend hours just playing around with different tools and not actually doing the project that I was necessarily supposed to be doing. And then I would have to do it at the last minute. I mean, I do get through deadlines on point. But I do get distracted a lot. But working with Eliza, she keeps me on task. Which I think is really nice.

Designs Eliza Young and Lily Bertles created as NVCT interns.

Aaron:

Great. You say you like diving into the research and stuff like that. So um, where do you usually go for inspiration and direction in either researching a topic or working on a design?

Eliza:

Yeah, I would definitely say that I get my inspiration just from the things I'm passionate about, like social issues and things like that. So reading the news, watching the news, and just being aware of things going on. That's how I get passionate about stuff. And then things that affect me and my community. I first got interested in conservation in our area in Alexandria when the "bulldoze Chinquapin Park" thing was going on. So just things that are local and more easily manageable and things that you can actually have an impact on. That's where I get motivated to step into.

Lily:

Yeah, me too, with watching the news and stuff. It inspires me to get involved in activism, you know, try to go to protests, and see what local efforts I can do. And when we were looking for a senior project to do, we were both talking about it, and we decided we wanted to do something in conservation so finding this and getting involved with this has been really great.

And learning how community efforts can be just as important as the big ideas in conservation. But when it comes to creativity, I probably get most of my inspiration from music, literature, and things that I'm absorbing.

Aaron:

Yeah. So describe a project you worked on, that didn't go as planned. What could you have done better?

Eliza:

Well, I think maybe when we were doing research on of the politicians from our area, we sometimes had a hard time because they're local politicians, but there's not a lot of information on them. So we had to do research that wasn't just Googling their name. And then for some of the conservationists we studied or did research on, one of the women I covered, she's done great things. But she's also kind of a "regular person." So there aren't books about her. So we had to strengthen my research skills to get extra on what she does.

Lily:

Something I wish I did when we were doing the conservation cheat sheet. There was this one person I was stuck on for so long because their name was kind of a basic name. So I couldn't find one of them or I wasn't sure if this was the right person... I wish I just asked one of you guys. But I wanted to be "all competent." And "I can do this on my own." But I should have just asked, so next time, I'll just ask for help.

Aaron:

I totally understand, and I've been guilty of that myself.


This question is inspired by what I've done as a journalist pretty much my whole career; you're always dealing with edits and changes, and so on. So how are you with revisions? And what do you do if you disagree with a correction? So when you work on something and put your energy into it? And then someone says, Yeah, I'm going to change that slightly. How do you feel about that? And what do you do in response to revisions to your work?

Eliza:

I think revisions to my work are very important to me. But when I start working on something I'm writing, I want to get it right the first time. So sometimes revisions stress me out at first because I kind of forget that that's part of the process. And I want it to be perfect the first time. So revisions actually make me feel better once they're done, but it's just kind of a stressful process getting there.

And then I don't know, when I get revisions, almost always the person who's reviewing my work is someone I respect, and I trust their judgment. So I feel I usually feel good about that.

And if it's explained to me, I'll be like, "that makes sense." And I think you shouldn't completely change what you did, and maybe some compromises and things like that. I feel like you should obviously listen to the input of other people, but I think you should also trust your gut and go with what you feel is right sometimes.

Lily:

Yeah. I know they're kind of similar, but I prefer feedback instead of revisions. Because I feel like revisions are like, "oh, you have to make this change..." I've been doing journalism at my school and I'm the editor. So I have to give a lot of people feedback, but when I'm giving it, I'll suggest stuff to people. I don't really make actual revisions or tell them to make actual revisions unless there are like grammatical errors.


Those are the kind of revisions that are really important... I need to make those. But when it comes to content wise, I prefer feedback. Especially from having multiple people read my work or look at my art and hearing their feedback.

I like that more because then it can still come from me. That makes sense. Instead of revisions. With English essays and stuff, this is bad, but I will just like submit my first draft, and I'll get feedback from my teacher. And I kind of like that, because then I can use that in the future. Or if we're allowed to, submit a new essay for with revisions having feedback to work from, as opposed to you have to make this change.

Aaron:

Okay, that's a great honest answer. Next question: So, how has this experience informed you about what you want to do going forward with your careers? You're coming out of your senior years in high school, and you're going to college soon. How has this experience impacted what you want to do going forward?


Eliza:

Well, I've always been interested in political science and public policy, and advocacy because my parents have done that, and my mom still does that. And it's things you would generally associate with government like health care and that's what she focuses on. And the work she does is interesting, but I just didn't realize you could do it with something like this. Healthcare is important to me, but conservation is something I'm more passionate about. So you can connect your interests with politics with also doing work that will really help people and something that you're really passionate about. So I think this was really eye-opening to me that I could connect what I'm going to learn about in the college classroom, like politics, and doing something that even if it's on the local level that could help people and unite my interests in what I'm studying.


Eliza and Lily with Director of Philanthropy Greg Meyers, Partnerships Coordinator Mary Spindler, and intern Nicholas Elsberg

Lily:

Yeah, that's another thing too. I don't know what I want to do. But I like the idea of doing something that helps my community or helps people in general. And I really liked the part of this that involves interacting with people. I really enjoyed that the gala, just getting to interact and talk to people. And I know that all of you guys have to interact with a lot of people in parts of your job... And I love that and I know that I want to do something that connects with people somehow, and helps people in some way. I'm not really sure what that is. But it was nice getting that experience hands-on these past few weeks.

Aaron:

Awesome. So speaking of the gala, what did you think of the River Farm event? Describe your experience there?


Eliza:

Yeah, I think we really enjoyed it. It's obviously such a pretty place. I was just kind of blown away by how even if you weren't actually standing in the tent, doing the event, just looking out on the Potomac River, that's such a unique experience and so pretty.

And just getting to see the program, how united everyone was, and being able to celebrate and feel a sense of accomplishment over saving river farm. That's a big accomplishment. I feel like that was a really rewarding experience for everyone. And it was just really empowering and impactful. And getting to hear the people who won awards. I think it was special that they got to get recognition. It was very touching and moving that they were there. So I was just really happy to be there. And it made me hopeful for the future of conservation and getting to see so many people who are united and want to do this work.

Lily:

Yeah, it was really nice to see how NVCT's work has impacted people, and just being associated with NVCT, people would compliment us even though we're just interns. And say, "you guys are doing great work." And it was just really great to see just how important this work is to people and the spaces they care about, like River Farm.

And the energy was just overall really positive and exciting and nice. And it was also the first grown-up event I feel like we went to, and so it was really cool to, you know, feel like an adult and interact with people outside of school and work. And getting to have those grown-up conversations. I even liked handing out name tags.

Eliza:

I know that was fun. Yeah, just getting to meet all those people.

Lily:

Yeah, it was so cool to meet people. And I met this one guy who went to college, where I'm going to college. And it was really cool to get to talk to him about that. And, you know, I just love meeting new people. So that was really great. And then, saying bye to people after the event and them saying how great it was or how they appreciate NVCT, or asking how they can donate. It was just really nice to see how much this has impacted people.

Aaron:

That's great to hear. My last question for you would be, do you know what you're going to major in when you go to college?

Eliza:

I'm going to a liberal arts school. So I don't have to decide until the end of my sophomore year. But I feel like right now, I'm leaning in the direction of doing political science. And I can do human rights concentration, which is my focus and study. So I feel like that's what I'm most passionate about, and that's what I'm heading into it.

Lily:

I am going in as an undecided liberal arts major because I don't know what I want to do. But I've already signed up for my courses. And I'm taking some in like anthropology, communications, gender studies. I'm taking a general writing course, and I'm doing a graphic design course. That's how I'm starting with my first semester, but there's so much that I want to explore... I'm also going to be taking Spanish. And I also really want to take film studies classes. So I don't really know what I'm majoring in yet. We'll find out , but right now. I'm just exploring what's out there.

Aaron:

That's awesome. Thank you. We enjoyed having you here, and I don't know how we get through this event without you helping us. So again, thank you.


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