Getting to Know: Summer Intern Duncan Dodson

August 18, 2015

Duncan DodsonThis summer, TLC staff and volunteers have had the pleasure of getting to know Duncan Dodson. Duncan is studying environmental science at Duke University and joined TLC this summer through the Stanback Internship Program.

Duncan hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma where he spent many formative years as a Boy Scout. “I basically got to experience 12 years of camp outs,” explained Duncan. For his Eagle Scout project, Duncan pursued his interest in Spanish by helping an ESL classroom. He held a book drive so successful it led to him building a mobile library for the books they couldn’t squeeze into the classroom.

When choosing a college, Duncan’s two criteria were an engineering program and a study abroad program. During a college fair at his school, he found a college with both – Duke University. He was also sold by the fact that Duke had an aggressive early admission program. Duncan was already accepted and committed to Duke by the time he made his first visit to the campus for Blue Devil Days the spring of his senior year of High School.

Like many students, Duncan switched his field of study, going from engineering to environmental science. Still, his favorite classes have been Introduction to Environmental Engineering and Fluid Mechanics. He especially enjoyed how those classes were hands-on and described environmental issues from a hard science perspective.

Duncan stays busy outside of class with involvement in many different projects, but especially with Project Wild and the Ubuntu living group. Project WILD (Wilderness Initiatives for Learning at Duke) is a pre-orientation trip for incoming freshman in which participants backpack for eleven days through the beautiful Pisgah National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains. Duncan went through the program his freshman year, finding a home away from home that he gladly returned to as both a trip leader and as the program director for a year.

Duncan is proud of how the program demonstrates non-directive leadership and bolsters accountability and confidence in new students. He is also proud of how the program works in the community to take students from local Durham high schools on a fall break trip that many of the students could not otherwise afford.

His other main activity is Ubuntu, a selective living group at Duke University devoted to civic engagement and social change. “Ubuntu” is an African term roughly translating to “human kindness” and is a philosophy focusing on connections and community. Duncan likes how “Ubus” – as they call themselves  – introduce one another to global issues and open themselves to intellectual challenges.

This summer, Duncan has been working on creating a draft management plan for TLC’s Walnut Hill Nature Preserve. TLC owns and manages Walnut Hill and hopes to open it to the public within the next few years.

Duncan giving presentation
Duncan presenting his research on Walnut Hill

Before his interview, Duncan had never even heard of land trusts or of TLC, so he really enjoyed getting to know the organization. “I would see a park and think ‘Leslie Knope.’ This is owned by a county parks system,” said Duncan. Now, he thinks about all the different ways land is conserved and how much work goes on behind the scenes to keep preserves and parks accessible.

Besides visiting Walnut Hill for the first time, his favorite moment this summer was a meeting with Wake County Parks and Recreation. He was nervous on the way to the meeting, but appreciated being able to finally apply some of the skills and knowledge he learned at school to a real life situation.

Duncan has one more semester left at Duke before he plans on heading out west to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with friends. While the hike probably won’t be “fun,” it will mix the familiar with the unfamiliar and give him time to think deeply about what he wants to do next. He “rolls with the punches”, but could see himself returning to NC. It’s important to him that the state is growing, but still really green. It’s ready access to mountains, beaches, and the cities is another draw for this outdoor adventurer.

We want to thank Duncan for his work this summer and wish him luck in his future endeavors in the classroom and on the trail!

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