While taking her sustainable community development (SCD) capstone last semester, Alex Vitulano ’16 was sold on spending her summer in Geneva as a Finger Lakes Economic Development Intern.
Majoring in environmental studies and double minoring in Spanish and sustainable community development, Vitulano is using the internship to expand her knowledge of developmental efforts by working on two local projects: reuse of the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus, N.Y., and the addition of ice-climbing at the falls in Ithaca, N.Y.
“Knowing that the internship was similar to the sustainable community development course I took, I wanted to apply because I thought it would be a good experience doing good work outside of just classwork. It has been great so far because I can go to meetings and talk with the stakeholders who are involved in the projects we are working on.”
Though always interested in the environment, Vitulano uncovered her passion for community development efforts while taking “Sustainable Community Development: Tools and Methods,” co-taught by Robin Lewis, assistant professor of environmental studies, and Jim Ochterski, program manager of the Finger Lakes Community Development Center at the Finger Lakes Institute. She discovered that she enjoys the diverse nature of the projects, which “encompass a lot of different topics into one,” and allow her to utilize her skills in communicative development efforts.
Jim Ochterski, internship supervisor, has challenged Vitulano with a variety of assignments this summer. “She has penned articles, generated summaries of regional economic development projects, created infographics that depict the complexity of the white deer issues, and applied creative thought to the challenge of ice climbing as a tourism attraction,” says Ochterski. “These kinds of skills will go a long way in her future career.”
This summer, Vitulano has focused on coordinating a planning workshop for the White Deer project at the former Seneca Army Depot that will include Seneca County town supervisors and others. The Seneca Army Depot has been closed for more than two decades, and the reuse of the federal property was turned over to the county government. The nearly 10,000-acre property has remained the home to the world’s largest herd of rare white deer, protected by a fence that encloses the property. Currently at odds are proponents for preservation of the white deer population and proponents for development.
“I am researching various ways that the depot could be developed. We are trying to find a way to incorporate industry, preservation, agriculture and recreation. I’m trying to help people come to an agreement and move forward,” Vitulano says.
She is also studying the proposal to allow ice climbing at the various waterfalls in Ithaca. Sport enthusiasts seeks the approval of the new sport which involves the use of picks and ropes to climb frozen waters of Ithaca’s gorges in the winter.
“We have been asked to do a feasibility report to see what the impact would be in the area if ice climbing was more established as a destination for the activity,” she says. Vitulano faces the challenge of predicting the potential economic benefits as well as addressing the risky nature of the activity, which involves increased training and funding.
“What would the economic impact be from ice climbing? What benefit does one couple bring who comes to do ice climbing?” Vitulano asks. “They will likely go out to a restaurant, stay in a hotel, and buy gas,” so much of the work involves balancing cost and benefit.
With her internship nearly half way over and graduation on the radar for next year, Vitulano reflects on her experience so far.
“I’ve learned so much about coordinating with people in the community. This internship was a perfect way for me to make some more connections in the area, and I like that the Finger Lakes Institute can work with the students and the community at the same time – it’s the best of both worlds. I am anxious to see what comes of the projects I’ve been working on.”