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Claire O’Neill

The intern who dove into her work…literally

[Photo: Claire O’Neill rescues a stuck paddler.]

Claire toward the end of her internship, making a rockin’ river rescue.

Photo by Trevor Russell/FMR

Lucky for us, Claire O’Neill didn’t know quite what to expect when she began her internship.

Steeped in book knowledge of an array of eco-struggles and solutions, all part of her Environmental Studies and Politics and International Relations double major at University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, Claire craved actual in-the-office and in-the-river-experiences — and boy, did she get them.

After a brief introduction to her cube this January, mild-mannered Claire was plunked into political organizing. Quickly gleaning a few main talking points from an 80-page legislative proposal for better environmental stewardship, Claire contacted dozens of FMR members regarding upcoming local meetings with their legislators. What should have taken three days took one, and at the end of her shift, Claire looked over her cube wall to me, her supervisor, and said, “Okay, what’s next?”

This became our little ritual. Every Tuesday, I gave Claire a task sure to take up her week, and the next day there they’d be — her wide-open eyes and empty inbox.

It didn’t matter what I threw her way: outreach research in never-before-worked-in locations, handling the FMR table at events with hundreds of participants, writing watershed-friendly gardening articles — all were done with not only great speed but high quality.

 FMR interns Caleb Phillips and Claire O’Neill]

Claire at the beginning of her internship, with fellow intern Caleb Phillips

The unflappable Claire says she just feels “lucky to work with people who don’t ask their interns to get them coffee or do their dishes.” Granted, FMR staff have made some odd requests of the super-intern.

This spring, Claire assisted with numerous events. Most, including her favorite, the Earth Day cleanup, where over 370 volunteers picked up litter in the River Gorge, went swimmingly. Oddly enough, it was the more relaxing, labor-free events that stretched the limits of Claire’s job description.

While assisting at a bird hike in Minneapolis, she was informed she should be ready to carry staff members up the very long 34th & West River Parkway stairs, and at the Rice Creek Paddle in late May, Claire discovered she “was also required for paddle retrieval and to keep staff members entertained by offering to wade into chest deep water.” The latter request was not in jest.

According to her canoe mate Watershed Program Director Trevor Russell, “when a railroad bridge leapt out and grabbed hold of a kayak, Claire just couldn’t just stay in her boat — that’s just not her style. Instead, she jumped in and waded over to help.”

Luckily, Trevor was alert enough to photo-document this creative rescue. Unfortunately, he was not able to keep his and Claire’s canoe anchored while taking photos, and thus drifted into danger. Of course, Claire promptly rescued him as well.

From outreach research to hands-on event assistance, Claire says she has learned a lot about environmental stewardship and organizing during her FMR time. And despite the human-chariot and kayak-rescue requests, she says she “would not have learned as much, or enjoyed doing it, if it weren’t for all of the staff that I’ve had the opportunity to work with.”

Alas, we can say the same of Claire — events and life in the outreach corner just won’t be the same without this super-intern as she heads back to Australia to further her studies this July.

We’ll miss you, and we thank you.