No week was the same. No day, either. And with what I saw and learned, no day after the summer of 2014 will be. It was the summer to top all summers.
As I sat reading a text from my friend, I had no idea what I was about to get myself into.
Flash back to November 2013: It was 8am, and I was sitting in my ecology class waiting for lecture to begin. My friend sends me a text that stated something along the lines of “this is you, and get on it!” The link was to the Doris Duke Conservation Program site. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation funded a collaborative between five universities, The University of Arizona, Cornell University, Florida State, NC State University, and the University of Idaho. It is a program that caters to those interested in conservation and environmental issues, as well as diversity and cultural inclusion.
Shortly thereafter, I applied, interviewed, and was chosen along with four other peers from NC State. The program is focused on community, field research experience, mentorship, and professional development.
As a junior in Environmental Technology and Management and minoring in Biological Sciences and Environmental Toxicology, this internship was the bridge between the two years I’ve completed and the two I have yet to complete.
Our first week started with awkwardness and ended in friendship. Cape Hatteras National Seashore was our destination where we met with Tracy and Shilo, our “bosses” for the week. We were to observe American oystercatcher populations in order to understand shorebird ecology and the effects of human disturbance on protected seashores. By the end of the week, we not only comprehended the study, but we drove away with broader knowledge in the basics of good data taking and data input, the use of technology in gathering data, and the different paths one can take at the conclusion of an undergraduate degree.
Through our weeks, the group bonded, grew, learned, and even celebrated a few birthdays together. My peers are majoring in Fisheries, Wildlife, Conservation Biology; Meteorology; Biological and Agricultural Engineering; Technology, Engineering, and Design Education. You can imagine the diversity in the majors and interests, and by the end, what each individual was most passionate about was felt by us all.
In the next couple of weeks we participated in multiple graduate student projects across North Carolina and Tennessee. It started with a Mentored Youth Trout Day, where we provided assistance in harvest sampling, went on to conducting a bird census to study the effects of fire disturbances on bird species in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and ended with working on a small mammal trapping and habitat relation studies at several Christmas tree farms in western Carolinas.
One week, we got in a car with our two graduate student mentors, Crystal Lee Pow and Adrianne Gill, and made our way to the National Conservation Training Center. The week included diversity, inclusion, and skill training at the “Hogwarts” of scientists. It was the initiation of the program, in terms of getting all 25 of the program’s scholars together for our first meeting. Friendships we built have lasted, and through the one credit hour class we take online, through the University of Florida, we have maintained discussions on the challenges and successes we go through on a weekly basis. It is a network built on twenty-four friends that I would have never met, had it not been for the program.
Talk about experience of a lifetime! I took what I learned in my Water Quality lab just two semesters ago, and conducted my own research, and established my own results. I came home with a blown mind. This could not possibly have been a real summer, and this “job” could not possibly be a “job.” I knew I was in the right field, but this summer signed, sealed, and delivered the real answer: I AM IN THE RIGHT MAJOR FOR ME.
This internship left me with a toolbox of technical skills and a plethora of detail-oriented knowledge that I will utilize in my studies, as well as a professional career. The Doris Duke Scholars Program allowed me a chance to learn how vegetation plot studies are conducted, how one can review past studies in order to develop effective study sites and methods, how to conduct radio telemetry, and how to read pit tags, measure, and weigh fish caught. The diversity of this internship not only spanned skills and careers, but people, and majors, as well. Coast to coast, technique to technique, that is what I take with me and will take with me into the next summer. The next part of the two year contract includes embarking onto a new journey, in a governmental agency job. The agency job will not only allow me to learn and apply new and old learned skills, but it will help me decide on a future pathway. Either I will go down the graduate school path or I will continue on to a private industry job. With the labs required in Environmental Technology, I can work in water quality, air pollution, or even in the monitoring of occupational safety and health of workers in industry. Time and experience in an internship such as this one have not only prepared me for taking on the next two years, but the future as well.