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I have always been a morning person so tackling the day with an early alarm has never been an issue. Working for eight hours straight with little breaks, however, is a whole other story.

This summer, I am interning at Conservation X Labs, a start-up, nonprofit focused on the intersection of conservation and technology. I will be contributing to their engineering lab, coined as The Garage, to ideate and develop a new product. My days so far include some meetings with most of my time dedicated to reading material related to our project. As a start-up, all of the employees have to-do lists that are a million items long and very rarely take breaks away from their work. While this is incredibly admirable, I am not quite up to speed yet. Exhaustion starts to hit just after lunch, surmounted by an extra cup of coffee.

The work here is groundbreaking and every staff member brings a diverse skillset. This allows CXL to tackle a variety of pressing issues including fungal pathogens in Hawaii and social and environmental issues related to artisanal mining. Through creating new devices, connecting makers around the world through the Digital Makerspace, and creating challenges and prizes to accelerate innovation, CXL develops and scales solutions for current conservation problems. I have already learned so much about start-up culture and conservation in my first week as an intern here.

Before arriving in DC, I was extremely anxious that I would not have anything to offer CXL. I have only completed two years of engineering education which has been very general and theory-based. Applying the building blocks I have learned at Duke to a real-world problem seemed daunting and unaccomplishable. But after meeting the team at CXL and reviewing my role for the summer, I am filled with excitement. I have space here to grow, learn, and even fail. This opportunity will help me gain technical skills as well as build relationships with former Duke alum and other mentors. I can not wait to see all that interning at CXL will teach me in just 7 short weeks from now.