Port Commissioner Felleman and Environmental Department Manager Bob Duffner joined in the community tree planting event Sophia helped coordinate this January.

Port Commissioner Felleman and Environmental Department Manager Bob Duffner joined in the community tree planting event Sophia helped coordinate this January.

A Day in the Life of an Environmental Intern

Ever wondered what happens during an internship at the Port of Seattle? Sophia Cassam, an intern at Sea-Tac Airport, shares her experience working for the Port’s Environmental team.

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Hello! I’m Sophia, the Port of Seattle Environmental Intern at Sea-Tac Airport. I study Urban Planning at the University of Washington, where I focus on environmental policy and community development. In the summer of 2014 I participated in the Port’s high school intern program, which I enjoyed so much I decided I wanted to come back as a college student during the 2018-2019 year.

One of the reasons I love my position is that I spend about half my time doing fieldwork outside and half my time in the office doing data entry, research and at meetings. Another reason is that I’m in an agency where it’s top priority to protect the environment and I’m working with (and learning from) some of the best in the field. While no day is exactly like any other, here is a snapshot of a typical day as an Environmental Intern!

Get Ready for the Day

At 6:30 a.m. my alarm goes off. It’s going to be a hot day with fieldwork up ahead and I need to be prepared. I get dressed in my field clothes (thick pants, a flannel shirt, and a baseball cap to protect my body and face from blackberry thorns and nettles), and I pack my bug spray, two water bottles and a lunch. I also pack a business casual outfit for my meetings later in the day.

I leave my parents’ house in Burien, where I live in the summer, at 7:10 a.m. and make the 10-minute drive to the airport. I park in the airport garage with my employee parking pass (Fun fact: the parking garage at Sea-Tac Airport is the second largest parking structure under a single roof in the world!). Then, I cross a skybridge to the south end of the arrivals area and make my way up the elevator to the Airport Office Building.

Arrive at Work

I arrive at my desk at 7:30 a.m., check my email, and take a look at the to-do list I left for myself the day before. On the agenda for today: Wetland Mitigation Monitoring fieldwork in Auburn in the morning, and two meetings and data entry in the afternoon. I have an email from our fieldwork consultants asking for a map of vegetative zones at our monitoring site, so I print it out and gather my datasheets before checking in with my supervisor and picking up the keys to the work truck.

The drive to the Auburn wetland takes about 25 minutes on I-5. I make sure to drive extra carefully while representing the Port behind the wheel!

Field Work

The two fieldwork consultants greet me as I roll up on the gravel road in the truck. Together, we go over the plan for the day and map out the locations where we will be collecting data on vegetation in the wetland. This site was once an open field, but the Port of Seattle converted it to wetland about a decade ago. Using our plant identification and navigation skills, our team will locate and count plants, shrubs, and trees at various sites. This data will be used to track the health of the wetland over the years. We need 16 wooden stakes, two 100-foot tape measures, and neon-pink marking tape to do our work today. Then, we do a safety check and put on our sunscreen, bug spray, waterproof work boots and orange vests before heading into the wetland.

The terrain in the wetland is varied and keeps the fieldwork interesting. I commonly find myself pushing through dense forest, swampy mud and blackberry thickets while taking inventory of the vegetation in the wetland. I’ve worked with these consultants nearly every morning all summer, and we have fun together! Around noon we sit down on a log and stop for lunch. Hydration is key, and I’ve already made it halfway through my second water bottle.

At 1 p.m., we end the fieldwork and I make my way back to the airport with today’s new vegetation data.

At the Office

Upon arriving back at the office I change out of my muddy field clothes and into my office clothes – a pair of navy blue pants and a nice button-down shirt. Then, I head to a meeting with my supervisor where I brief them on some research on FAA tree-height regulations around the airport I’d been working on for the last week. They have new questions I don’t have the answers to yet, and I take notes so I can follow up tomorrow. My next meeting isn’t for another 30 minutes, so I make the most of my time by responding to emails and filing datasheets.

At the next meeting, 12 people gather in a conference room to talk about a big project. There are planners, engineers, and project managers, as well as people from external relations and the environmental department. At the Port, pretty much all projects involve close collaboration and teamwork between several different disciplines! I don’t have direct involvement in this project, so I listen, take notes and ask questions.

My final task for the day – data entry! I open the Mitigation Monitoring database in Excel and enter the vegetation data I collected with the consultants in Auburn this morning. Entering data daily is important because it piles up quickly. After entering the data I check my email again and make my to-do list for the next day. In store for tomorrow: fish videography in the creeks around the airport to track the annual presence of trout and salmon. Hopefully it’ll be warm again tomorrow since I’ll be spending the day wading in cold water.

I file away the datasheets I’ve entered, clean up my desk, and head over to my supervisor’s cubicle to say bye. It’s 4:30 p.m. and I’m ready to go for an afternoon swim in the Puget Sound with my friends after a good day’s work!

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Learn more about the Port of Seattle internship program – internship applications close in April.

“My job is awesome because I get to spend so much time outside. Here, I’m planting a tree at a community event that I helped organize,” Sophia says.

“My job is awesome because I get to spend so much time outside. Here, I’m planting a tree at a community event that I helped organize,” Sophia says.

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