Student Profile: Courtney Blankenheim
When the Clean Air Dialogue Working Group needed someone to update a 14 year old report on the economic impact of the Twin Cities failing to meet EPA rules on ozone levels, they turned to Courtney Blankenheim to get the job done. It turned out to be a good fit for both the working group and the second year MS-STEP student from Madison, Wisconsin.
As an intern for the American Lung Association (ALA) she's charged with conducting public outreach activities as well as crunching data related to alternative fuels and electric vehicles. The ALA is a member of the working group, which is made up of organizations that often don't see eye to eye on air quality issues including local governments, state agencies, environmental nonprofits and corporate representatives from the power and trucking industries, among others.
With these diverse interests at the table, Courtney presented strategic options if the region were to go in "nonattainment" for ozone and fine particulate matter as a way to estimate what the potential economic impact to the region would be. With fresh data at hand, the working group agreed on draft recommendations for a final report to be released this spring.
Courtney credits the MS-STEP program for helping her strengthen her policy analysis skills as well as the skills needed to communicate results effectively. "It's been a great compliment to my undergraduate experience," she said. "I've developed more applicable skills and experiences going into the workforce."
She values the diversity of student interests in the MS-STEP program. "We're a small but dynamic bunch," states Courtney. "We have a special bond." She points to Energy & Environmental Policy with Professor Elizabeth Wilson, Science & Technology Policy with Professor Jennifer Kuzma and Survey of STEP Topics with Senior Fellow Steve Kelley and Professor Deb Swackhamer as classes that were particularly impactful.
While she's always been interested in environmental issues, it was a teacher her senior year of high school who drove home the point that, according to Courtney, "the decisions we make impact the planet." It helped convince her to explore the social sciences in concert with the hard sciences. As an undergrad Environmental Science major at the U of M, she honed her research skills one summer with the Department of Entomology as a self-described "bug farmer." "We would check traps out in the wheat and soybean fields to see what sort of insects were in the treated fields and then analyze the data to find trends," she said. "It was a good way to spend the summer!"
Courtney's only prerequisite for her professional career ahead is that it is with an organization that is "working towards a greater goal." It's clear that she's gained the skills and experiences that will make any organization lucky to have her!