Brian Letts ’18 is the 44th Lehigh student to intern at the United Nations, but the first one to do so outside of New York. He is working at Sustainable United Nations (SUN) in Geneva, Switzerland.
While touring campus the summer before applying to the master's program in environmental policy design, Letts had the opportunity to meet Bill Hunter, director of the Lehigh University-United Nations Partnership. Hunter gave Letts clarity about his future endeavors, inspiring him to leave his career and return to school.
Hunter shared some of the incredible work that students had done through the UN partnership, and Letts was immediately intrigued. Hunter also mentioned that they were recruiting students to work on a project to “green” UN missions in New York City. From this conversation, Letts decided to attend Lehigh and pursue his dreams.
The Lehigh University Partnership for Sustainable UN Missions (Greening UN Missions) worked with the Sustainable UN (SUN) team to design an evaluation process that is consistent with the existing internal sustainability framework of the UN system. It was through this work that Letts connected with the SUN team, and after working closely with them and the staff at the Swedish Mission, he ending up receiving an internship with SUN in Geneva.
Letts has thoroughly enjoyed his time in Geneva so far. His primary responsibility has been to assist in the publishing of their annual Greening the Blue report, which details the UN system’s environmental footprint and efforts to reduce it. This means helping to collect and assess environmental inventory data such as greenhouse gas emissions which are primarily produced from activities that use fossil fuels (travel, electricity, heating/cooling, etc) as well as waster and water. He also helps with qualitative data as well, such as whether entities employ an Environmental Management System (a framework that allows an organization to systematically review, evaluate and improve their facilities and operations in terms of environmental performance). This information is key to demonstrating the UN’s integrity in meeting its commitment to climate neutrality by 2020.
This internship and my experience with the [UN] partnership have allowed me to pair my academic studies with practical experience.
Being such a beautiful and cultural city, Geneva was immediately welcoming to Letts. He said it was a really easy adjustment. He also has met a fantastic group of interns, whom he has had the pleasure of becoming close friends with. Letts says that it is nice to have a large group of friends who are in Geneva for the same purpose as him.
“I would say that this internship and my experience with the partnership have allowed me to pair my academic studies with practical experience. Not to mention that this experience allows me to work at the United Nations as they lead in the call for worldwide climate action and bring their internal operations in line with this mission,” Letts said.
Letts’ goals after graduation are to work in a position where he might influence or implement effective environmental sustainability policies, specifically focused on combatting climate change. He is still debating whether he could make a bigger impact in the public or private sector, but his internship and work with Greening the UN Missions has demonstrated the critical importance and scalable impact of making sustainability a core focus of business operations and office practices.
For students looking for international internships in the future, Letts says to make the best of every opportunity and always be a professional. To learn more about Lehigh’s partnership with the United Nations visit global.lehigh.edu/un-partnership.