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North Topsail Beach is a far cry from the college town of Chapel Hill that I made home the past four years. While in Chapel Hill you mainly come across college students from North Carolina, in NTB there’s people from all walks of life: marines, tourists, retirees, a surprising amount of New Yorkers, and typical small town families all co-exist.

They come together in town hall. I knew from my very first interview with the town manager and town clerk that I’d be working with smart, generous people. But from the moment I arrived, I was treated like family. During my first few weeks, everyone checked in to make sure I was settling in and offered their guidance on any questions I had — and there are a lot of questions to be answered.

As a beach town, NTB faces issues that most of the other fellows in my cohort will not. On top of the local government responsibilities and services that apply to every municipality, we come in contact with a large cast of abbreviations every single day: CBRA, CAMA, EOC, Con D, TISPC, FEMA, and EHP to name a few. These characters are familiar to every coastal community, but it’s a steep learning curve to get them and their complex legalities down.

I first became familiar with these coastal management terms when I studied in the Outer Banks for six months in 2017. While I knew the quick definition of what they were, I didn’t understand how they applied to real communities until starting the fellowship. Every day, I see the coastal management and policy I learned while sitting in a classroom affect real people and real ecosystems. No matter if I stay in local government or not, that’s an invaluable experience for what I hope will turn into a lifelong career on the coast.

I also get to use another part of my college degree right out the gate — communications. One of my main projects is developing and implementing a communications plan for town hall. Despite only having

about 800 year-round residents, we have over 40,000 followers on Facebook. I just got off the phone with a social media archiving company who was shocked at our numbers.

To establish town hall as the primary source of information on NTB happenings and gatherings, creating a formal plan ensures staff regularly engages with citizens and visitors in an accessible, equitable, and efficient way. To close information gaps as tightly as possible, the plan covers everything from sharing beach fun facts to promoting board meetings. One of my main challenges is creating something sustainable — plans and tools that anyone in the town hall can use after I leave, even if they haven’t taken college courses in media.

After chipping away at my projects in town hall until 5 p.m., I’ve got the perfect way to unwind after work: the beach. No matter how busy my life may get, it’ll always be just over the bridge. I don’t know how I got so lucky to move to the coast right after college, but I’ll make the most of the two years I have here.