City Semester check-in with Madeleine Ryan

We are currently in the middle of another great summer with City Semester Pittsburgh, with six Penn State students living and learning about sustainability in the region. This semester, we have students from four different colleges, including the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Eberly College of Science, College of Arts and Architecture, and College of Agricultural Science. Each week, students meet at the Franco Harris Pittsburgh Center, near downtown, for a class on Urban Sustainability and then spend the rest of the week interning with a local community partner. Let’s check in with one of the students!

Maddie posingName: Madeleine Ryan
College: College of Arts and Architecture 
Major: Landscape Architecture
Expected Graduation: Fall 2025
City Semester Internship: Riverlife

What is your role and what are your general responsibilities during this internship? 

I am working under the projects and planning team, assisting Riverlife on several key organizational planning and design efforts. I also carry out tasks to support Riverlife projects, programs, and community engagement, along with organization-wide operations and administration tasks. 

What does your day-to-day look like? 

This internship is exciting because every day looks different. I am gaining a wide range of experience from working in the office, attending community meetings, tabling at festivals, and participating in fieldwork along the riverfronts. 

I attend weekly meetings in the office and assist with administrative tasks, such as creating graphics, researching Pittsburgh neighborhoods, and studying GIS data. My work outside the office is focused on working with the communities neighboring the 15 miles of riverfront trails in Riverlife’s “Completing The Loop” master plan. I assist Riverlife with informing Pittsburghers about our initiative to connect our city to the rivers, along with asking for their input.

Maddie at Riverlife tableWhat has been the most interesting/your favorite part of the program so far?

I have enjoyed all the intersections between my internship at Riverlife and the Earth 412 course. There is a new speaker in every class who has a Pittsburgh urban sustainability background. They have provided important insight into government, nonprofit, and corporate systems aiding Pittsburgh’s urban development. Because Riverlife is a nonprofit, most of their work is collaborative and supported by these groups. My time at Riverlife and in class has given me a deeper understanding of these public processes. The program has allowed me to create valuable connections with coworkers at Riverlife and class speakers, who are all doing amazing work in my hometown. 

What were your first impressions of Pittsburgh? 

I grew up in Pittsburgh, which has shaped my values for sustainability. Earth 412 and my internship at Riverlife have offered new insights into the strong community and nonprofit networks in Pittsburgh. These groups support the local issues that drive my passion for urban design and sustainability. 

It has been exciting to receive insider perspectives on local issues and projects I have always cared about. I’ve always thought Pittsburgh stood out for its community networks, but every day I am more and more impressed by the overwhelming efforts and achievements towards sustainability. 

What’s your favorite sustainability hack?  

Take every opportunity as a student to learn how to intertwine sustainable practices with your profession to make lasting, meaningful impacts through your career.