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Graduate Reflects on Internship

By Clara Miles, MA '05
January 9, 2014

Benjamin Elkind '12 illustrated the base graphics for an animated video about floodplain management, which is part of a suite of educational materials on the subject available at nature.org/floodplains.

While looking for an internship that would allow him to write and research, Benjamin Elkind ’12 found a different and intriguing option at a Bradley job fair — creating the graphics for a new educational video about floodplain management for The Nature Conservancy. “It turned out they were looking for a designer, and I was overjoyed to be involved in any capacity with that organization,” the advertising major said of the shift from writer to illustrator.

Technically, the five-month internship was with The Nature Conservancy’s Great Rivers Partnership — a program launched with a major gift from Caterpillar Foundation and described as a “global effort to create a new model for sustainable management of the world’s Great Rivers.” Elkind’s role consisted mainly of designing and illustrating the changing landscape of a flooding river. “I had to represent different scenarios and show how a flood can have vastly different effects on an area depending on how the land is altered by development,” he noted. However, the art minor did have some help along the way.

“He worked directly with a team of scientists and communications staff at the Conservancy to learn about floodplains and how they can naturally reduce flood risk to communities,” explained Divina Baratta, a communication specialist for the non-profit organization. The scientists, in particular, provided the most guidance and feedback, helping him identify where to place a curve in the river or the proper location for a horseshoe lake — a revision process that was simplified by modern computer programs. After Elkind completed the base illustrations, a professional designer finalized the animated piece with additional layers and features.

The video was released in April 2013, just a few weeks before record flooding occurred along the Illinois River and throughout central Illinois. According to Baratta, when members of the Great Rivers Partnership were interviewed about the historic water levels, “they often would reference the video and supporting resources to help people understand what was happening.”

In addition to creating a valuable reference for immediate use during the flood, Elkind also played a major role in the larger floodplains project. “His work was key in developing an overall suite of public education pieces addressing the causes of flooding and promoting more sustainable, proactive solutions to protect people and nature,” Baratta added.

Although Elkind’s internship with the organization ended when he graduated, The Nature Conservancy still maintains a strong relationship with Bradley. As a participant in the Illinois Cooperative Work Study Program, the organization helps support wages for the University’s interns. The Nature Conservancy also continues to accept new interns “because it allows us to bring in young, fresh minds to our work and helps us inspire future conservation leaders,” Baratta noted. In fact, The Nature Conservancy recently hired Kelsey Tueth ’14, an art major, who is exploring ways the nonprofit can share the video with educational institutions.

Today, Elkind works as a marketing associate and copywriter in Chicago. He also volunteers at FreeGeek Chicago, a charitable organization dedicated to providing computer access to individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have it. His heart for philanthropy can be traced back to his time on campus and at The Nature Conservancy. “Seeing people working in a proactive way to protect something they are passionate about was invaluable to me,” he said. “It redefined what I should consider my work environment to be and even the reasons why I work.”

Extremely active while a student, Elkind credits his years on the Hilltop for his many postgraduate successes: “Bradley gave me fantastic opportunities to lead creative and innovative organizations, which helped me learn to lead and work with people.”



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