“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”
– James Keller
The OWF Incubate Social Entrepreneurs initiative focuses on helping university students develop into innovative social entrepreneurs. We recognize that the transition from an academic environment to a career can be daunting. Consequently, OWF seeks to provide technical skills and an awareness of water resources issues that will help students in their choice of initial employment, increase technical skills and knowledge, and have greater impact. Below are examples of how OWF is incubating social entrepreneurs through our internship program.
Provide Opportunities to Work on Challenging and Impactful Projects
The OWF does not work on simple problems. We often are developing new tools and processes to analyze complex data about complex water issues. The reality is that some of this work takes more time and resources that can be paid for by some of our normal projects. Consequently, interns provide a resource at a lower cost to explore complex issues while interacting with senior OWF staff, all the while learning about the issues and gaining new skills. Because OWF is a social enterprise, we stress to interns the balance of business and social benefits of the work that we do (and that they can do). Examples of projects that interns have worked on include:
- Developing visualizations of river basin water systems
- Automating analysis of environmental flow requirements for the State of Colorado
- Writing software to analyze and visualize streamflow data
- Collaborating on educational materials for university water resources courses
An internship at OWF results in meaningful products that have impact. We also try to help students align project work with requirements of their advanced degrees.
Pursue Funding for Internships
The projects mentioned in the previous section require funding. OWF pursues funding for interns in various ways, to ensure that we have financial resources to provide paid internships and complete projects. It is OWF’s goal to always have interns working at OWF to provide a flexible resource on projects. The following are funding sources that we pursue:
- Donations from OWF supporters, who would like to support the internship program
- Align with foundations that have an interest in supporting students (for example for a specific geographical area or to attend a specific school) – OWF can meet these requirements and provide impactful work for the student, often focusing on a geographic area of interest
- Align with industry funding sources that would like to invest in innovation on a certain topic
- Align with STEM education funding (see also the OWF STEM Education initiative)
- Align with employers who can support OWF and its internship program to invest in qualified candidates for employment in various industry sectors (see more discussion below)
We encourage you to contact OWF If you are a funder who is interested in supporting students while they do important work in water resources.
Provide Opportunities to Interact with Water Professionals
Projects such as those described above inevitably involve interactions with a variety of organizations and people. However, students encounter barriers that can delay their professional development. Students can be intimidated by industry professionals, different personality types respond differently to interaction, and generational differences also impact how interaction and communication occur. In reality, complex water issues require a dedication to lifelong learning and human interactions are one of the most effective ways to learn about the intricacies of water issues. OWF encourages interns to participate in the water community:
- OWF uses LinkedIn and social media to explain our work, highlight our team (including interns), and network in the water resources community
- OWF interns have the opportunity to attend project meetings and interact with clients
- OWF provides information to interns about events in the water resources community
- OWF staff have an extensive professional network and we leverage this network to help students connect with future employers and advisors on school projects
Provide Education about Different Industry Sectors and Business Models (see also the OWF STEM Education Initiative)
OWF is different. We have a social enterprise business model that is open and collaborative. Our office is located in a startup incubator that is an entrepreneurial innovation hub. We work with and support many industry sectors. All of this allows OWF to provide interns with experience and knowledge working with a variety of industry sectors (government, consulting, research, and social) and business models (for-profit, nonprofit, benefit corporations, social enterprise, etc.). We understand that students have limited experience with how organizations operate, how organizational cultures vary, and how they might fit (or not) in an organization. From the other perspective, employers are trying to hire graduates to fill positions with specific skill requirements, good interpersonal skills, and ability to fit into the organization’s culture. OWF seeks to help students and their future employers as follows:
- OWF staff have experience working for organizations in different sectors and we help students understand how those sectors operate and introduce students to opportunities in various sectors.
- OWF is working to develop a revolving internship program where students have the opportunity to work as interns in a variety of industry sector organizations. For example, a student may intern with OWF to learn data analysis and software skills and then rotate to an internship at a government organization, where they can apply technical skills to a government program or policy analysis. This concept has not gained traction yet but OWF is interested in collaborating with organizations to make it happen.
- OWF is particularly interested in projects that allow interns to collaborate across organizations, which will provide maximum engagement with diverse stakeholders involved with an issue.
“As a graduate student intern at the Open Water Foundation, I developed a new set of problem solving skills. I had the opportunity to work with numerous readily available software programs (including QGIS, Tableau Public, MapStory) and apply them to various water resources problems. This taught me to critically analyze each tool and carefully evaluate its usefulness for the problem at hand. I gained extensive experience with the TSTool software developed by OWF, and used it automate processing and visualize data for the Cache la Poudre River Basin. Through this project, I gained a working knowledge of Colorado water law. Also within TSTool, I used template processing to create visualizations of StateMod model datasets. My experience at OWF taught me to think through a problem before beginning and to anticipate any issues I might come across so that I could adjust my approach. Finally, I was encouraged to take on any opportunity to learn about water in Colorado, whether that meant going on the Northern Water Western Slope Water Tour or attending water conferences and networking events. I had a well-rounded intern experience at OWF, and I believe it has successfully prepared me for my future career in water resources.”