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News Monthly Star

Melissa: An Intern for DarkSky International

Each month, we highlight an astounding advocate. For the next two months, we're highlighting our interns. Melissa comes from Salt Lake City, Utah, where stars were once ubiquitous. However, light pollution dimmed the night sky. Melissa discusses the importance of building skills as a young person, which helped her get her internship at DarkSky International.

Hi! My name is Melissa. I’m an intern for DarkSky International and I love the dark. People tend to fear the dark, but I grew up in the darkest state in the USA: Utah. Stars were my comfort and a hyper fixation for me, so much so that I would sometimes sit outside and look for the major constellations. The brilliance of the stars captivated me until they were eventually dimmed and essentially missing. Then the stars faded more and more every year until there were almost none to be seen. Light pollution had begun to gradually affect my city.

For a while, I lost this wonderful connection to the skies and, instead, became afraid of the dark. There was nothing to look at anymore. It wasn’t until I was a university student that I regained interest. I had a meticulously planned five-year trajectory for college that didn’t include dark skies, focusing on a major in music and a minor in musical theater. However, life took unexpected turns, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and my burgeoning interest in environmental matters during isolation. I underwent a series of major changes, transitioning through multiple fields of study before settling on urban ecology. This academic path introduced me to the dark sky movement, prompting me to minor in the subject at my university.

The coursework I undertook in these classes left a profound impact. We witnessed instances where birds became ensnared in the glare of artificial lights, notably at places like the 9/11 Memorial. However, what struck me the hardest was the disproportionate impact of light pollution on low-income communities. It heightened their vulnerability to excessive policing, putting their safety at risk. Given my own background of growing up in poverty, this issue resonated deeply with me. It marked a full-circle moment, highlighting my longstanding commitment to fostering diversity in my teen years. Ultimately, building up skills during those formative years of my life helped me get the internship of my dreams.

When I was hired as an intern, people often asked me about the path that led to this internship. I looked back on the experiences that prepared me for this opportunity. In high school, my aspiration was to hold a leadership role in my school’s choir program due to the stark lack of diversity, driven by a deep-seated commitment to inclusion. Because of the poverty and racial inequity I have faced in my life, I felt a need to amplify others’ voices. 

Though music and light pollution are seemingly unrelated, they share a common theme – both are often overlooked issues that have significant repercussions, particularly for underprivileged communities. Entering into this leadership position at a young age, I did not expect to learn proper communication, graphic design skills, and how to recruit others. Even later down the line, this helped me become Co-President of Latinx Student Union when I was a junior in college. 

While I prefer not to revisit my angsty high school days, as I am 21 and am very much past that stage of my life, I want to take this moment to encourage any high school students to do things that can give them skills early on. These skills and experiences shaped the woman I am today. 

I encourage you to start building your skills when you are young. Start connecting with advocates. Make a difference by starting a DarkSky club at your school. Do many things to learn about astronomy and enrich your life with skills outside of astronomy while you have the resources to do so.

To future interns, you may think that your previous jobs and extracurriculars aren’t relevant enough to apply. However, any experience that can amplify the dark sky movement is reason enough to apply. As long as you have a love for the stars and a willingness to help all kinds of communities, you have a shot at being an intern. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the unintentional groundwork laid during my high school years and early college days. 

Learn more about becoming a DarkSky Advocate.