2020 CMG Summer Internship: The Value of Virtual Mentorship

Every summer, CMG Landscape Architecture hosts an internship for prospective designers who want to gain real world experience. Our summer internships have provided college students with the opportunity to research relevant issues and topics to the landscape and urban design profession such as democratic public space and sea level rise – all while working in a professional studio. But how can we offer an in-person internship during a major pandemic and current shelter-in-place orders? The answer was: we can’t. This was until we received an email from a Faculty member at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who had a bright and intelligent landscape student looking for an opportunity that made us reconsider our 2020 internship program.

What about a virtual internship? Could a student gain experience without physically being in the studio or on the project site? Although interns wouldn’t be able to get the full experience of working side by side with professional designers, a virtual internship could still teach students about the design process, the importance of collaboration with designers, the community and clients, and provide an inside look into our firm’s culture and values. This summer, we hosted a virtual internship with LaVance Thomas, a fifth year Landscape Architecture student at Cal Poly SLO.

During his internship, LaVance observed and participated in a mix of project meetings, both internal with project teams and external with CMG clients, our office all team weekly meetings, online lectures and conferences about landscape architecture and one-on-one meetings with CMG designers to learn about their professional experiences. Here’s what LaVance had to say about his time with our office:

What was a typical day and/or week of your internship?

Due to the nature of the virtual internship a typical week consisted of attending various project meetings. Although my primary role at CMG was as an observer, I had the opportunity to learn meeting structure, design process, and problem solving in a professional environment. In addition to attending project meetings I was given the opportunity to speak with individual CMG team members about their career trajectory and academic and professional experience which was very valuable during my time as an intern.

During your internship, you spent time with the Climate Positive Design and Yerba Buena Island/Treasure Island project teams. What interested you about these projects? What did you learn from working with these teams?

Climate Positive Design (CPD) is a concept I had a particular interest in during my internship at CMG. By attending CPD project meetings I learned it’s possible to quantify the carbon footprint of a project which is a valuable design tool to help mitigate the overall environmental impact a project is responsible for. This concept is very fascinating and something I definitely plan to consider applying toward my senior design project this fall. I owe my knowledge of this concept to the Climate Positive Design team at CMG and I’m grateful to have been a part of the experience.

Master Plan meetings for the Treasure Island project was another great opportunity to learn how large scale complex sites are approached from a city planning standpoint. The emphasis on low-impact development and the use of local materials speaks towards CMG’s appreciation for sustainable practice.

What will you take from the virtual internship into your own practice?

Professionalism is definitely something I will take from my virtual internship experience at CMG into my own practice. This opportunity allowed me to observe a professional environment that values building relationships with the community through hard work and integrity which is something I envision for myself as a future professional.

Any highlights of the virtual internship? Any challenges?

A highlight of the internship experience was attending the Cut/Fill virtual conference. Presentations and discussions on racial justice and climate change were interesting topics to contemplate how we understand them within the context of the landscape architecture profession. The small group discussions on how to develop and communicate frameworks that promote environmental justice as a tool for positive change were definitely powerful and encouraging as a future designer of public spaces.