Getting back to a more typical summer of field research and conservation outreach has been a breath of fresh air for the Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms team at Iowa State University. And, for the water resources interns working with the programs for the summer, the opportunities to engage with the public about water quality, farming practices, conservation and natural resources have provided a broad range of experiences.
"We love the injection of enthusiasm and energy these college students bring to the team, and it is always interesting to see what clicks with each of them," says Ann Staudt, Water Rocks director. "Our interns get straight to work with the Water Rocks and Iowa Learning Farms outreach, visiting schools and preparing for public appearances with the Conservation Station trailers at events across the state. They also gain firsthand field research experience between events."
This summer internship has two major components: public outreach and field research. While these may seem at odds, Water Rocks and Iowa Learning Farms programming builds on science- and research- based information and materials, so a solid understanding of research methods and results is essential for outreach teams to be most effective. The research may not be as glamorous as speaking to a group of children or adults about water issues, but internships are as much about learning as doing.
"We strive to provide the interns with experiences that can help them expand their knowledge, as well as get a better feel for what career path they may choose," Staudt says. "Learning about field research and doing field research are not the same thing. Working in a hot Iowa field to locate milkweed plants and measuring the distance to nearby pollen sources that emerging monarch butterflies need for nourishment, or observing water infiltration time by looking down a hole in a crop field, require keen attention to detail and focus to ensure accurate data are collected for these on-the-ground research and demonstration projects."
This year's crop of water resources interns includes four college students with varied backgrounds and experience. Since reporting for work, the interns have been on the road with Water Rocks and Iowa Learning Farms, visiting schools for the final weeks of the semester, then transitioning to public education and outreach at farmers markets, county fairs and other venues.
"One of our consistent observations at public events is the delightful conversations people have with the interns," Staudt says. "People love seeing these young people and often spend extra time not just learning about water quality and natural resources, but also getting to know them and learning about their dreams and aspirations."
2021 water resources interns
Taylor Bryan. Bryan, from Council Bluffs, Iowa, is entering her junior year at ISU, majoring in environmental science and global resource systems. She has a strong interest in conservation and sustainability, and is excited to expand her hands on research and outreach experiences. Bryan has worked with youth programs for years and is delighted to be working with Water Rocks on youth outreach, but also expressed her excitement for engaging in meaningful dialogue with all members of the public from diverse backgrounds. She has expanded her knowledge of watersheds and loves sharing what she's learned with groups at schools and day camps, county fairs and town festivals all over Iowa.
Nicole Haverback. Haverback grew up on a diversified cow-calf and row crop operation near Atkinson, Ill. She is entering her senior year at ISU, majoring in agriculture and society. Bringing her lifetime farm experiences and those gained through previous internships with Tyson Foods and Bayer Crop Science, Haverback wants to build on her knowledge of sustainability and conservation in the agricultural industry. She noted that through this internship, she has learned much about conservation practices including the effective use of prairie strips, saturated buffers and bioreactors along the field edges. She is considering a career in conservation or educational outreach, and is excited to be working directly with the public through Water Rocks and Iowa Learning Farms appearances.
Garrett Little. Little, from Middletown, Pa., is entering his senior year at ISU, majoring in agricultural engineering. While he didn't grow up on a farm, Little has been involved in outdoor pursuits, including showing animals with 4-H and the Boy Scouts, for most of his life. Little commented that he is extremely environmentally focused, and wants to continue learning ways to incorporate these interests into a career in agricultural engineering. He is also delighted to be working with Iowans of all ages through the Water Rocks and Iowa Learning Farms outreach events — and having a chance to explore Iowa and its varied environments.
Celaysa Mora. Mora, from Des Moines, Iowa, is a senior at ISU, majoring in forestry. She brings a depth of experience in research garnered from work at Grand View University and ISU to her internship. One of her goals for the internship was to learn more about conservation topics and practices that she could use in becoming an environmental educator in the future. She is also interested in improving her ability to interpret sometimes-complex technical or scientific concepts for nontechnical audiences. With her fellow interns, Mora has been working public Water Rocks and Iowa Learning Farms events as well as conducting fieldwork with monarch monitoring and observing water infiltration rates in prairie strips and crop fields.
Stevenson is a visual outreach specialist and conservation educator with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks.