The Voice of Interns: Climate Action and the Future

Climate Action Interns SmithGroup Architecture Sustainable Design

As climate change continues to intensify, it continues to disrupt national economies and affect the lives of communities and countries across the globe. The AEC industry is at the forefront of seeking ways to mitigate the effects of the climate emergency, by working to create a more resilient built environment. To achieve this goal, today’s design and construction professionals must continue to educate, train and expose the next generations to empower and enable them to make a difference through their career paths. We asked our 2022 interns to share their thoughts about climate action and how they hope to advance this mission. 

Understanding Climate Action

SmithGroup’s commitment to design a better future demands that we advance and innovate new solutions to address the climate emergency. Part of this commitment is exploring how climate change impacts different groups of people with disparate needs and challenges. Our interns explore what climate action means to them and why it is so important:

  • “Climate Action means more than goal setting but enacting meaningful change to influence the environment and others in the building industry, setting a precedent of progress. All sectors of the building industry have a responsibility to partake in forming innovative solutions to climate change and forming a positive future for the next generation.” - Emily Lenhart, Pennsylvania State University, Bachelor of Architectural Engineering
  • “Climate action to me is when the decisions you make (professional, personal, financial, and ethical, etc.) are driven by an attempt to adapt to or prevent climate change. It is not a universal measurement and must be scaled based on the actor: there is a big difference between what climate action a national corporation is capable of versus a single mother working paycheck to paycheck.” - Maya Pardanani, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
  • “My country, Iran, is in the Middle East. This area is mostly dry, and shortage of water is a huge issue. Any changes in the world climate are more sensible to my people compared to people living in areas having more rainfall. Climate action is important to me because it saves my people from drought and in consequence saving them from poverty and illness.” - Farimah Raisali, Kent State University, Master of Healthcare Design
  • “Climate action has always been embedded in my education at the University of Michigan, where were are always thinking about how we can work to be more sustainable. It’s reliant on our teachings in school and embedding sustainable work ethic within that.” – Madeleine Smith, University of Michigan, Bachelor of Science in Architecture


Climate Action at SmithGroup

Our firm’s extensive history of cutting-edge sustainable and resilient design projects isn’t the only way we contribute to climate action. We also strive to educate and invest in future design leaders, ensuring they build the experience and knowledge to contribute to climate action in their own way. Our interns discuss how SmithGroup’s position on climate action has impacted their career:

  • “Being exposed to how the firm works is expanding my perspective on how realistically I can help address climate change through design. I have seen so far how SmithGroup is committed to promoting and practicing sustainability. I especially appreciate the initiative to achieve carbon neutrality in their operations. Actions like implementing new resources to better track travel miles, eliminating single-use plastics, and promoting incentives to encourage more sustainable commutes, prove the commitment of the firm to make a real change and to lead by example.” - Vanessa Giraldo Ruiz, San Jose State University, Bachelor of the Fine Arts in Interior Design
  • “Because of SmithGroup’s focus on LEED certifications and sustainability initiatives, I am excited to see how realistic it is to produce sustainable designs. Working at SmithGroup will give me a great foundation for integrating climate action goals into design work.” - Spencer Derthick, Washington University in St. Louis, Bachelor of Science in Architecture
  • “One of the first projects I learned about at SmithGroup was a project recovering heat from wastewater for the building’s use to adequately handle heating and cooling loads of the building. Not only was the building energy efficient but the design goals were also achieved. Innovative projects like this one are just one of the many in SmithGroup’s portfolio emphasizing the firm’s commitment to climate action now.” - Emily Lenhart, Pennsylvania State University, Bachelor of Architectural Engineering
  • “Seeing all the innovative projects and sustainable design solutions that this firm has designed and produced always made me interested to intern with SmithGroup.” - Yasmeen Abdelaal, Virginia Tech, Bachelor of Architecture


A Career Path for a New Generation

The key to advancing climate action within our industry is creating a path for future generations to follow. As climate change advances, the impact on each next generation escalates. It is our duty to ensure that we create career paths for future designers to advance and accelerate climate action solutions. Our interns discuss how their specific career paths can contribute to climate action and why it is so important to their generation:


  • “I see my career contributing to how energy generation and usage is manipulated with building envelopes. Within the mechanical side of building designs, HVAC and plumbing systems have both advanced to consider decreasing the usage of energy required for building operations from energy companies and increasing the energy that can be recycled or gained from natural resources like the sun and vegetation. Overall, this will decrease the use of fossil fuels to produce energy that gets distributed to different companies and buildings for operation.” - Tony Simmons, Lawrence Tech University, Bachelor of Science in Architectural Engineering
  • “I can see my career contributing to climate action in two main ways. One such way is through green design, in which we can greatly reduce a building’s impact on the surrounding environment and its carbon emissions. Finding new ways to build more efficient buildings and upgrade our existing buildings is paramount for a bright future. The other way that I could see my future contributing to climate action is in the materials used in the design and buildings. Using timber is a good way to create a carbon bank, and much better than using concrete, while locally sourced materials can reduce transportation costs in both money and emissions.” - Frost Kenerson, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Bachelor of Science in Architectural Engineering
  • “I think an opportunity in addressing the climate emergency that is interesting to me, is the challenge of finding ways to recycle and reuse building materials. The idea of mitigating waste and using existing materials to their full potential is something that I’d like to explore further. There is a lot of carbon emissions associated with creating new building materials and I think looking into using alternatives could be a solution.” - Hanna Trojanowski, Pennsylvania State University, Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
  • “I am interested in concrete and transportation, two significant contributors to our carbon emissions. Concrete is a very widely used material, so manufacturing and using a less carbon intensive concrete can go a long way. During my internship, I am also realizing just how much concrete is used and where there may be the option to simply use less concrete. Regarding transportation, there are many possibilities to transition away from the country’s car-centric infrastructure such as public transit systems, complete streets, and automation; these opportunities can reduce our emissions, free up a lot of the space we dedicate to parking and promote a healthier overall environment.” - Vivian Kim, University of Michigan, Bachelor of Science in Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • “I think my generation is far more aware of the climate crisis than any other generation, as it is really all we have known all our lives. We have also lived through the advanced technology and research that has been able to quantify the climate crisis, which makes it far more impactful when looking at it on paper. Because we are young and we are the future, it is important that we can use our design talent to make things that can positively impact the planet for the future generations that will be just as young and curious as we are right now.” - Juliette Guanci, Lafayette University, Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering