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Farewelling Our Amazing Interns, Mary Peyton-Brown and Giacomo Renalli

Mary Peyton-Brown and Giacomo Renalli speak with editor Liberty Lawson about their time here at the SEI over the past few months.

Image by Allie Smith, via Unsplash

Mary, a student at New York University, has been interning with Foodlab Sydney, and Giacomo has been on exchange at USYD from Kings College, London. Both of these talented young students have worked so hard over the past months, and their enthusiasm will be sorely missed.

Liberty: What brought you to Sydney and the SEI, and what have you been working on over the past few months during your internships?

Mary: This year I had the opportunity to escape the brutal New York City polar vortex and work with FoodLab Sydney, a custom-designed food business incubator offshoot of SEI. Working in collaboration with the City of Sydney, FoodLab Detroit, University of Sydney, UNSW, and TAFE, FoodLab Sydney is aiming to provide training and support to people that want to work in the food industry. I’ve been working mainly with communications to build up a social media presence for FoodLab, as well as helping out administratively.

Giacomo: During the last semester I have had the great opportunity to collaborate with SEI as a research assistant intern, and it has been one of the most exciting and interesting opportunities I have had throughout my studies so far.

Mary: It’s been the most amazing internship; getting to see both the research and operations aspects of NGO operation and the food business sector in Sydney has taught me more than any class. What I found most inspirational, though, was to see a group of incredibly passionate people build this organization from the ground up. Growing an organization, particularly one that is socially conscious, requires so much consideration, time, and effort—things come up that no one had thought of and it requires adaptability and quick thinking to respond efficiently. I go to school in New York City, so I’m used to things being fast-paced, but seeing it at a business level really emphasizes the importance of being able to think quickly and creatively in order to problem solve.

Giacomo: Looking back at the last months, I would identify as a starting point of my research a roundtable discussion about the role of Australia within the Pacific region, with experts and political figures including the former president of Kiribati, his excellency Anote Tong. During the discussion I became aware of the profound struggle many Pacific Islands face when they confront sea level rise: the risk to see their territory disappearing. Studying International Relations, the topic suddenly caught my attention, which led me to reflect upon the international law and security implications of the concept of statelessness, a scenario which will highly likely take place in the upcoming decades for countries such as Kiribati, Marshall Islands and even Maldives. Thus, throughout the internship I have explored in depth the existing literature and I have written one piece specifically about the legal struggle that climate induced statelessness of poses to the international legal system. It was so thrilling to see one of my works published online for the first time!

What were some of the highlights of your stay, and the biggest lessons you’ve taken away?

Giacomo: The most important lesson I can take from this experience is definitely a new perspective on the issue of climate change. Throughout my studies in Europe I never really came across the Pacific as a topic; yet researching about it with SEI enabled me to broaden my vision in a way that now includes what I consider one of the most fascinating and interesting region of the world, from many point of views, up to the point that I have decided to focus my honours thesis on the environmental repercussions of militarism the Pacific.

Mary: Being able to gain hands-on experience in the food industry, well, the policy-business-food industry, has been the best experience. I’ve taken classes in these subjects, but nothing has taught me more than the opportunity to actually be involved in a company that is doing these things. Particularly looking at these skills as a student, I hope to take with me that passion and the dedication to doing what is right over what is easy, with me when I return to the US and when looking at what I want to do in the future.

Giacomo: Another exciting aspect about my time at SEI was the interaction with ongoing projects and works by other researchers. It was so inspiring to work in a space where everybody works so hard to produce and share ideas about the environment: It was exemplar to see how climate change is truly considered the defining issue of our times.

Likewise, we have loved having you both here over the past few months, it has been so amazing to see you both taking on so many opportunities to learn and flourishing as scholars. Do you have any final thoughts?

Mary: My time at FoodLab and SEI has been fantastic, and I want to thank the team at FoodLab Sydney and SEI for being so generous and allowing me to be part of their world for a few months.

Giacomo: I would like to thank Michelle, who has given me the chance to collaborate with SEI, and all the other amazing people who work here.


Huge thanks again to both Mary and Giacomo for their time here with the SEI and Foodlab Sydney. It has been so much fun having them in the office this year, and we are all truly grateful for their contributions to the Institute.

We wish them all the best as they return to New York and London — and hope that we get to work alongside these talented young scholars again in the future!