September 9, 2022

Written by Emily Mulcahy, recipient of the Global Change Center’s 2022 Science Policy Fellowship

This summer I was given the opportunity to join several other interns in our nation’s capital to bring a different perspective to my undergraduate student career in biological sciences. As a biology major with a focus on ecology, evolution, and behavior, in addition to my two minors in wetland science and green engineering, I have a vast field of study. I wasn’t sure if I would find an internship that suited all of my interests, which is why my services with the Environmental Protection Agency were an exceptionally ideal experience.

I was placed as a technical intern within the Water Enforcement Division (WED) of the Office of Civil Enforcement (OCE). Along with one other technical intern in my division, my primary charge was to identify facilities across the country that lacked a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. An NPDES, in summary, is a water permit that describes and sets a measurable limit on the pollutants that certain facility types are most likely at risk for accidentally discharging into national water sources. It is incredibly important for collecting data on pollutant point sources and reducing the amount found in streams, rivers, and other bodies of water.

Erica Jones, standing in the doorway of her office at CropLife International
Emily Mulcahy in Washington DC.

During the week I worked in an office at the EPA Headquarters located less than a five-minute walk from the National Mall. Due to the EPA’s adjustment back to in-person work after two years, there were still quite a few people who worked from home. While the option to work remotely was available to me, and I took that advantage on my Friday workdays, I preferred to go into the office. This allowed me to have more personal relationships with the other EPA interns and employees, including the chance to meet the Administrator of the EPA, Administrator Michael Regan. Although I enjoy the comfort of working from my apartment on Capitol Hill, I never passed up the opportunity to network with more people and be able to put a name to their faces.

In addition to my internship, I enrolled in the six-credit SPIA 4974 course as part of my responsibilities in the Washington Semester program. The workload was light and I looked forward to the classes we had in the Virginia Tech Research Center located in Ballston, Arlington. Every week we wrote a short journal entry about our weekly experiences of immersing ourselves in the capital. It offered me a moment to sit down and reflect on all that I had learned in my internship and how I’ve progressed in my education, leadership, independence, and even my political stances. Since the start of the summer, my mindset has altered to become more open-minded about the pressures in the federal government and more aware of the political issues that occur across the nation.

Outside of interning and classes, I kept my weekends busy. I constantly sought out activities that I could do within the city either by myself or with local friends. With museums, parades, restaurants, sightseeing, farmers' markets, musicals, and many other events, I was never bored. I even got the chance to see a baseball game with some colleagues!

I am proud to say that I truly believe that I have made a positive impact to prevent water pollution and push the country a step closer to a greener way of living. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor, civil and environmental engineer Sean Ireland, who guided me through the several functions of the EPA and strengthened my knowledge of the importance of enforcing preventative measures against water pollution and the utilization of several computer resources, including Microsoft Excel. While I don’t believe working I will direct my career path to work in environmental law, as most EPA employees do, I can see myself returning as a researcher to help support evidence for necessary laws and regulations for the EPA to implement. My time spent in DC this summer was invaluable, and I look forward to what lies ahead of me in the future.