Interning with Knight Foundation

My Time with Akron Civic Commons

By Jen Vliet


On May 30, 2017, I stepped into my role as a summer intern for  Knight Foundation’s Akron office and little did I know that this internship would develop longer roots for my love of this city.

Having been a student at The University of Akron for the last four years, I am very involved on campus,  but it was not until the last year or so when I really began to explore outside the lines of campus.

 I was familiar with downtown, having gone to eat at Lockview and Barley House or to run on the Towpath, but my internship at Knight has exposed me to more of the city than I could’ve ever imagine. In just 10 weeks, I got to see spaces change, the majority of it through the Reimagining the Civic Commons (RCC) project. 

The first time I went to Summit Lake was with Greg Milo, a consultant with Knight’s Akron office. We went down there to figure out some details for the Open Streets event. AGAIN—This was the FIRST time I had ever been to Summit Lake in the four years I have lived here. Being a lover of water, I was shocked to be standing in front of this big lake just five minutes from my house.

Although Summit Lake has some negative perceptions, I could see the beauty beyond them. Yes, there was trash, overgrown grass, weeds, algae in the water, and all those other things that are unappealing to the eye. However, there was beauty in the flowing water and the blossoming flowers around it. There was beauty in the floating bridge that glides directly over the water.

It was exciting to know that Summit Lake was going to get a face lift through the funds and support of RCC.

I went on a bike tour with RCC partners and truly got to see and experience the passion they have for improving a space that is for the community and wanted by the community. They are so passionate about working with the neighbors instead of excluding them. They are so passionate about creating a space around Summit Lake that welcomes diversity, and a shared space for all.

One of the greatest things I have been able to witness and experience is the genuine, true passion that individuals have for the RCC project. As an intern, I was able to attend RCC Core Team meetings which consist of 20+ community leaders collaborating and discussing how to make the best out of this project. 

One of my favorite parts about this summer has been seeing how fast the RCC prototyping and phases have taken off. In those ten short weeks of my internship, I witnessed major changes to Summit Lake including the tear down of the fence, the addition of a nature playground, the creation of the water front and addition of umbrellas, seating, and swings. I also witnessed and was a part of the Lock 2 improvements from the painting of the steps, tree art, streamers, and outdoor living room within such a short time period.  

Overall, this summer the RCC Project has been one of my favorite things to be a part of. It has been something that I continuously look forward to discussing and participating in and I have loved being able to see all of the plans be put into action.

There is so much passion, intention, and desire to see the city of Akron thrive and the RCC project is just one piece of the entire puzzle making Akron a better place.

 //Jen Vliet is a former Knight intern and current University of Akron student who is student teaching in Barberton.//