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Knowledge Through Nature: My Experience at Friends of the Columbia Gorge

Knowledge Through Nature: My Experience at Friends of the Columbia Gorge
Sunrise at Tom McCall Preserve. (photographer: Michael Horodyski)
By Alana Cogen
Digital Communications Intern
June 25, 2020

Since January, I have been working as Friends of the Columbia Gorge’s digital communications intern. The internship, which ends on June 30, has been challenging and rewarding in a unique way: I served part of it in Friends’ Portland office, and the rest has been remote because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, I graduated from Portland State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies. My internship at Friends of the Columbia Gorge, integrated with my final quarter of coursework as an undergraduate, was an interesting, informative, and engaging experience on both an academic and a professional level. Each day, performing my internship duties, I learned something new about myself and Friends’ work. I am exiting my internship with a new perspective and understanding of how I want to use my skills to help change the world.
My core communication courses at Portland State provided me with an extensive base of knowledge to understand human interaction, behavioral patterns, types of communication (verbal vs. non-verbal) and how these have been impacted by technology, the new world of digital communication, and the disadvantages/advantages of it all. Using this knowledge aided me in taking on creative and exciting roles at Friends.

Intern duties

Early in March, a week before the pandemic fundamentally changed how we work, I led a day-long Friends “takeover” of Portland State’s Instagram account, touring around the Gorge to present about issues Friends is working on. The takeover was part of an ongoing effort by Friends’ Public Engagement team to get younger audiences involved with Friends. As Portland State’s Instagram has more than 25,000 followers, we were able to expose Friends’ work to an audience of young people who care about the environment and conservation, and in large part are familiar with the Gorge, but haven’t necessarily put the two together the way Friends does.
My intern duties also include creating social media posts for Friends’ channels, including designing and adapting messaging, imagery and graphics. I've developed interactive content such as virtual trivia, helped create video content, restructured Friends' YouTube channel, and assisted with Friends’ most recent photo contest, as well as with our recent Gorgeous Wildlife webinar series. Watching my ideas and hard work come to life in a professional setting has been rewarding and motivating. I feel that I have learned and grown a lot, professionally and personally, because of these accomplishments and the skills I have learned throughout my internship.
The Friends internship was a pivotal and influential part of my college education because I was able to see the hands-on connections between my course work and my career fields, helping me leave the position feeling more capable and confident. For example, I learned how to improve my active listening, collaborate in groups more effectively, perform informational interviews, coordinate projects with co-workers, how to better promote community engagement, adapting public messaging in order to meet changing environments; back-end-of-website editing, and the importance of constructive criticism and critical self-reflection.
Aside from being challenged in new ways, through my internship I also have gained so much knowledge about the important work of environmental conservation nonprofits. As an Oregonian, I am so grateful to contribute to helping protect the cultural, natural, scenic, and recreational resources of the Gorge. My time at Friends will always be a foundation for moving forward into adulthood and my career.

Nature as community

My internship has also provided a kind of spiritual learning experience. I have learned that nature connects the human race in ways that are hard to describe in words. Literally, nature is a force stronger than humanity itself, a force that shows both beauty and pain.
The Columbia Gorge is an incredibly special place to many people. Long before Friends, and before today’s communities lived in the Gorge, Indigenous communities flourished throughout these lands. The Gorge has been home to people for centuries, resulting in a bounty of cultural resources resulting from deep tribal roots. Today, Friends supports tribal efforts to protect those resources.
Since the pandemic has limited recreation throughout the Gorge, many of us have struggled with a lack of access to nature. Nature is often a place of happiness, peace, and calmness. Even though everyone who loves and engages with the Gorge may not know each other, at this moment, we long for the same thing: to return to the Gorge. Nature connects us in ways we often do not discuss. However, love of nature provides us an innate community. Nature should be a safe space for all, inspiring us to come together.
Conservation, community, unity. Nature and nurture. Thank you, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, for the work you do continuing to inspire these communities, and creating and protecting the lands of the Gorge. Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of the Friends team and for teaching me so much about why conserving the Gorge is so crucial. Finally, thank you for helping build lifelong connections and for the endless inspiration.
Alana Cogen is a 2020 graduate of Portland State University. She can be reached at