Alison Berg of Steamboat Pilot & Today | February 18, 2021

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In an effort to help young professionals and community members, the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council has started an internship program with college students and graduates across Colorado.

“There are very few professional development opportunities for young professionals in the Yampa Valley,” said Michelle Stewart, executive director of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council. “We get a lot of young professionals who work in tourism industries, but there isn’t much for those who have degrees in environmental studies or sustainability.”

This is the first year the nonprofit has accepted interns, so the program is still in its early stages. There are currently six interns focusing on different areas of sustainability, from transitioning the valley to rely on solar energy to studying the impacts of more single-use take-out boxes and plastic utensils since the beginning of the pandemic. The council currently has a mix of paid and unpaid opportunities for interns.

“It gives us another arm of individuals who are bight and committed to sustainability and can do great work for our programs,” Stewart said.

Tina Evans, a professor of sustainability studies at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs, said younger generations being involved in sustainability is vital because younger generations will reap the impacts of climate change.

“We’re seeing the impacts of climate change and drying in the west, the need to move to renewable energy is now,” Evans said. “The younger generations are going to see this unfold and will see a lot of these things happen.”

Evans said many of her students who have worked with the council have tackled different areas of sustainability, such as growing the economy through renewable energy and working in environmental equality. Each area intersects in building a more sustainable future, Evans added.

“We have a lot of social change that we need to undertake and there are many directions sustainability needs to go, so there’s a lot of room for different interests,” Evans said. “The impacts of climate change become much less distressing when you’re actively doing something about it.”

Each intern chooses a different project to focus on. Graduate student intern Madeline Craig-Scheckman is assessing how to implement solar energy across the Yampa Valley, particularly in Steamboat Springs.

“It’s an awesome way to find my interest in sustainability while also being able to connect with the community I grew up in,” Craig-Scheckman said.

Craig-Scheckman was raised in Steamboat before obtaining her bachelor’s degree at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She believes the internship is especially meaningful to her because she’s able to study an area she knows well and has a deep appreciation for.

“Being able to have the knowledge I had from my upbringing and being able to bring that to a real-life scenario that I’m passionate about makes for a more dynamic internship,” Craig-Scheckman said. “I feel more comfortable to just jump right in and talk to people and I know how things operate.”

Craig-Scheckman is in the early stages of her project, but she hopes to study how to make solar energy more accessible to all and figure out current barriers community members face to implementing solar power.

“A lot of people don’t understand that there are solar opportunities and it’s affordable,” Craig-Scheckman said.