Theory into Practice: Bard CEP Learning and Interning at Sustainable Silicon Valley

Sustainable Silicon Valley offices

I hit return as we test if the account has been deactivated; when the account no longer registers the email address, it signals the end of my six-month internship with Sustainable Silicon Valley (SSV). Two days later, as I’m climbing up 39,000 feet at a cruising speed of 560 mph, en route to Bard, I’m turning over in my mind how Bard prepared me for SSV, of theory into practice.

Before drifting off to sleep on the red eye, Professor Segarra’s problem narrative is replaying in my mind. I think about her analysis that a change in addressing a problem occurs when a majority agrees on problem definition and narrative. At SSV, I observed first hand the effects of several years of consistent messaging about how treated on-site potable water reuse could go from stigmatized to embraced.

I think back to my supervisor telling me about SSV’s work on treated on-site water reuse. How, as recently as three years ago, the big concern was the healthiness of the water after treatment and the “yuck factor” – the idea that drinking water once used in a laundry machine (for example) will turn off consumers. SSV’s work on communicating research verifying the healthiness of treated on-site potable water and demonstrating how the “yuck factor” becomes a non-factor, got municipalities and companies to gradually accept treated on-site potable water reuse.

Theory-into-practice is the process of translating classroom knowledge into the everyday work. At SSV, I had ample examples of how Bard had prepared me for that translation. In addition to Professor Segarra’s problem narrative, Professor Ramaley’s communication exercises played an extensive role in my internship experience.

So much of the work revolved around communicating to stakeholders the need to collaborate. For many stakeholders affected by SSV’s work, it was important to communicate key research findings and policy decisions, as it turned out that, in many cases, stakeholders did not know about key findings and/or policy decisions.

Just as important as communicating the substance, was how was the information communicated, how was the message crafted and in what form was it communicated? Professor Ramaley’s general audience presentation exercise helped me craft messages. On a number of occasions, I had to prepare presentations for SSV staff on key water issues and project models. I found that cutting down my slide material to the most essential points, the points a non-expert audience would need to have, was most effective.

Additionally, much of Bard CEP’s group work was premised on collaboration, finding meeting points and building consensus off of those points. In SSV’s work, too, the meeting points on treated on-site potable water reuse had to be established, as the different stakeholders had different objectives and pressures. As my thesis highlighted, these different objectives and pressures can create intractable positions. However, SSV’s drive to build consensus made surmountable these intractable positions.

Coming to the end of volunteering at SSV was hard, as the work was good work. Especially as a researcher, there’s a part of me that wanted to test out more of the learning from Bard. Time and again, situations would arise, projects needed work, and every time I would be pulling on something learned in the Bard CEP classroom, feedback from an exercise, or finding that one article that spoke directly to the situation at hand; theory into practice.

About jamesrichmond

CEP '19, M.Sc Climate Science and Policy. A native of California, was born in Los Angeles but grew up in San Francisco. Prior to Bard served two years in Americorps in Oakland, CA and New Haven, CT providing sustainability advisement in regard to home repairs/renovation/modifications. In the realm of academia, did year and a half at the Harvard University Extension School and 7 months of thesis research in Accra, Ghana while serving with the UN International Organization for Migration.