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A fresh crop of interns

Iowa Learning Farms: Groups provide conservation education at various events during summer.

By Elizabeth Juchems

As another school year closed out, Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! embarked on a full summer of conservation education at schools, county fairs, field days, farmers markets and other public venues. Helping to power the effort to reach Iowans with conservation and water quality messages are an eager and energetic crop of Iowa State University water resources interns who joined the team in mid-May.

“Summer is our busiest outreach season and while the interns enable ILF and Water Rocks to make more visits and appearances, they contribute much more than peoplepower,” says Jacqueline Comito, Water Rocks executive director. “One of the coolest things we see every year is the connection between these young people and the audiences we serve — and not just the kids. Adults often seek out the interns to hear their stories and learn about why they’re involved in conservation efforts. Many have commented it gives them hope for the future to see young people so passionate about conservation.”

Gaining knowledge 

Another important part of the internship experience is participating in research projects. Interns often work with ISU researchers to gather samples, conduct field surveys and help assess data. Past projects have ranged from drawing water and soil samples to counting earthworms in farm fields.

Hailing from various backgrounds and at different points in their education, there are seven 2019 water resources interns:

Ashley Armstrong from Montezuma in southeast Iowa just finished her freshman year at Dordt University and is pursuing a degree in ag education. Ashley grew up on a farm and has a strong passion for agriculture and conservation, which she looks forward to sharing through teaching. She loves to be outdoors and traveling, and has a goal to visit all 50 states before age 25. After the first week of her internship, Ashley expressed delight in the amount of fun she was having and how much she had already learned.

Emma Flemming is a Canadian who hails from Des Moines. She is entering her junior year at ISU, majoring in environmental science and international studies. Her experiences before this internship have included working with EarthEmpower, an international organization focused on connecting Latin American agricultural producers with markets. She is also involved with the ISU Environmental Education Club. Emma looks forward to sharpening her teaching and communications skills through working with the different audiences at Water Rocks and Conservation Station events.

Scott Grzybowski, a native of Albert Lea, Minn., graduated from ISU with a degree in chemistry this year and will begin a graduate program at the University of Iowa in the fall. A lover of nature, Scott is still new to the field of conservation, but learning quickly. His knowledge of chemistry helps him to quickly understand what is happening in the farming and natural environments. He enjoys working with young people and is excited to see the energy and enthusiasm, as well as the knowledge, they have with respect to conservation.

Andrew Hillman, of Bettendorf, Iowa, graduated from ISU with degree in biosystems engineering and is off to North Carolina State University to pursue a graduate degree in the fall. Andrew is the only returning intern in this year’s class, having been a team-member in 2017. While an old hand at the education part of the internship experience, he is looking forward to expanding his experience through working with ISU faculty on research projects this summer. He enjoys teaching and performing with the Water Rocks group, was an ISU marching band member for four years, and looks forward to finding ways to increase his experience and knowledge this summer while sharing his passion for conservation.

Clarice Huber, from DeWitt, Iowa, is an ISU sophomore majoring in biological systems engineering. She hasn’t worked on a farm but has spent enough time visiting family farms that she has a good understanding of the basics. Since starting this internship, she noted that her passion for conservation has grown dramatically. Always comfortable in the outdoors and working with children, Clarice is excited to gain experience and learn through her internship this summer.

Taylor Manemann’s current home base is Huntington Beach, Calif., but throughout her life she’s lived in California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska and now Iowa at ISU. She’s in her senior year at ISU, majoring in environmental science, with minors in sustainability and agronomy. Taylor loves working with people and has a strong interest in the environment. She feels lucky to have secured this internship where she can put her communications skills to work while learning, teaching and participating in research. Always having lived in cities, Taylor is surprised and impressed with the level of conservation knowledge of students she’s seen in classroom visits as an intern. She’s looking forward to a full summer of fun and learning.

Becca Wiarda is an ISU senior from Ackley, Iowa, majoring in ag business and finance, with minors in sustainability and agronomy. During her college career, Becca has tried different paths but found herself coming back to her strong lifelong interest in conservation. She grew up on a family farm and has worked as a conservation aide for the Soil and Water Conservation District in Grundy County, an accounting intern and an ag investment analyst intern. She’s excited to be challenged by the combination of education and research elements of this internship. She continues to be impressed by what many of the young kids already know about water quality and conservation.

New skills and confidence

“Our internship program provides learning opportunities on multiple levels,” Comito says. “They hone communications skills and gain experience in public engagement and education, but also get their hands dirty working in the field with experts in agriculture, water quality and conservation research. At the end of the summer, these young people return to their studies with new skills, knowledge and confidence.”

There is little downtime for the interns. On their first day, they were in the spotlight helping to finish out Water Rocks assemblies and classroom visits before the end of the primary and secondary school terms.

“It’s not really trial by fire, but we put them right into the program, on stage and in the classroom,” Comito says. “Our permanent staff is there with them at the beginning, but it’s not long before they are carrying the messages on their own — and in their own way.”

Hitting the road is not just a euphemism. The ILF and Water Rocks team crisscross the state with the three Conservation Station trailers. Leaving Ames early in the morning, drives can top three hours. Working in all kinds of weather and at a range of venues, adaptability and creative problem-solving are important skills for the interns.

To find out when the Conservation Stations and Water Rocks will be at an event near you, visit

Juchems is an Iowa Learning Farms conservation outreach specialist.

TAGS: Education
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