The Water Rocks! team looks forward to summer intern season every year. The enthusiasm and energy these college students bring with them each spring helps invigorate the entire education and outreach program.
Of course, as with everything else this year, the landscape for outreach education has been dramatically altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Precautions are being taken, which means a different mode of delivery of the program to elementary and middle school students as well as adults in the audience.
The Water Rocks program is Iowa’s award-winning conservation and water quality education program that is part of Iowa State University Extension. The program delivers lessons about watersheds, wetlands, soil, pollinators, water quality and other natural resource topics to young students in kindergarten through eighth grade statewide.
Summer different this year
In past years, the Water Rocks interns would be on the road participating in school assemblies and classroom visits until the normal end of the school year. Then, as summer progressed, they would be at county fairs and farmers markets with the Conservation Station trailers, interacting with the public and conveying conservation and natural resource messages.
But this year schools are closed, and fairs are being scaled back. Many fairs have been canceled. In addition, the Water Rocks team must comply with ISU policies that limit personal interactions to protect the health and safety of all.
According to Director Ann Staudt, despite these sudden changes, the program’s leadership team is committed to providing the student interns with valuable learning and work experiences.
“While the interns dramatically expand our outreach team and allow us to be more places and interact with more Iowans each summer, at its core, the internship program is about providing these students with field experience in research, outreach and teaching,” she says. “We took time in March and early April to map out some new outreach initiatives and identified fieldwork opportunities that would fit within the operating framework we expected to face, while still providing a rich and diverse hands-on learning experience.”
Another good crop of interns
This year’s crop of water resources interns includes seven men and women with varied backgrounds and experience. Since reporting to work, the interns have initiated a county park adventure series program, participated in earthworm and monarch field study projects, worked with soil studies, and provided data entry support for multiple conservation research projects underway at the university. All hold out hope that some group and in-person outreach opportunities will come about later in the summer. In the meantime, they’ve expressed delight with what they are learning and doing.
Building on the Water Rocks goal of providing learning opportunities for youth, the county park adventure series program is designed to make family outings to nearby parks fun and educational. The interns have visited more than 30 parks across the state already. At each park, they identify unique features and then design age-appropriate activities for youth from preschool through middle-school ages, integrating these recommendations into user-friendly activity guides, to be released later this year.
Staudt and the rest of the Water Rocks leadership team continue to monitor opportunities for outreach and entertain new project ideas that will serve the organization’s goals as well as provide impactful hands-on opportunities for its interns. The interns are:
Allison Boehm grew up on a farm near Wadena, Iowa, and is entering her final year at ISU, majoring in environmental science and pursuing a minor in animal ecology. A lifetime Cyclone fan, she loves being outdoors and is excited to be working in the field with ISU researchers as well as sharpening her skills in outreach, public speaking and teaching. She is particularly looking forward to participating in monarch butterfly and bird survey studies this summer. Allison has already expanded her knowledge of study design and logistics working on the monarch project and is happily surprised with the range of activities and tasks she’s participated in through the first month of the internship.
Emma Bruck moved to Johnston, Iowa, from the state of Oregon during her middle-school years. In August 2020, she will be a junior majoring in global resource systems with a minor in sustainability at ISU. She didn’t grow up on a farm but has worked in agriculture since 2015 and for USDA during the last school year doing lab and fieldwork with corn, winter wheat and soybeans. Emma has a passion for conservation and the environment and is looking forward to expanding her skills in teaching and outreach through this internship. She has enjoyed getting out in Iowa, learning about its diverse landscape and parks, and having fun working with the Water Rocks team. Emma is excited to help people discover the many parks in Polk County that are often overlooked and provide families with opportunities to learn and have fun together when they visit.
Jonah Gray is an ISU sophomore from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He is pursuing a degree in agronomy and environmental science with a minor in sustainability. Jonah has lived in cities his entire life but developed a tremendous love of the outdoors and nature early. He worked in a wetlands research lab during his first year at ISU and was very pleased to be selected as a Water Rocks intern. He was hoping to put his energetic personality and passion for helping to save the planet to work through school assemblies and public engagements but has also found the parks project to be a great outlet for his creativity. Jonah enjoys being a part of the Water Rocks team and is eager to expand his knowledge about research and conservation while helping others learn as well.
J. Hunter Krichel is slated to graduate from ISU in November 2020 with a degree in environmental science and a minor in biology. He grew up in Woodward, Iowa, where he developed his passion for bettering the earth through outdoor work and activities. Hunter is looking to expand his experiences with conservation practices in the field and environmental research through this internship. He is happy participating in a range of research activities, fieldwork on edge-of-field structures and collecting samples. As a hands-on person, he loves the work, but is still hoping to be able to engage in more person-to-person outreach. He says he’s already learned a lot about water quality and conservation, and as he rides his motorcycle, he likes viewing Iowa through the new lens of this knowledge.
Kate Lucas, who grew up in the suburban town of Lake St. Louis, Mo., is entering her junior year at ISU, majoring in biology. She brings experience with teaching, tutoring and working with youth, along with a passion for water conservation, to this internship. Her parents are both ISU alumni. Kate is looking forward to learning through doing – both in research and outreach activities. She is exploring conservation as a career choice and is excited about the breadth of experiences she’s had this summer. Kate says traveling around Iowa to visit parks, counting earthworm middens, and working with her teammates to add their creative flair to the county park activity guides, has all been rewarding and fun.
Lindsey Page grew up in Maxwell, Iowa, and worked on her grandparents’ farm from a young age. She graduated from ISU in May 2020, with a bachelor’s degree in forestry and minor in animal ecology. Lindsey is passionate about the outdoors and eager to engage others with her passion. Looking to establish a career in community outreach or conservation education, she felt working and learning with Water Rock! would provide an excellent foundation for her to build on. She also worked at an agritourism orchard in central Iowa where she developed a youth summer camp program. She’s excited to work with the Water Rocks team and expand her knowledge of environmental education while also participating in outreach and research. She’s very pleased with the variety of activities this summer and is looking forward to hopefully getting on the road with the Conservation Stations in coming months.
Riley Wilgenbusch, a senior at ISU majoring in agronomy and global resource systems, grew up in Story City, Iowa, where he spent time on his family’s hobby farm and participated in many ag-related activities. Riley has worked with USDA studying water quality and soil health and contributed to a report for the United Nations about sustainability. He looks forward to contributing his agriculture knowledge and love of music to the Water Rocks program this summer and is excited to participate in research and outreach across the state. Riley enjoys the variety of experiences so far and is looking forward to helping with Water Rocks video projects. He also discovered some hidden gems through the county park project and notes that the internship is made even better by the commitment of the Water Rocks staff to ensure he and the other interns are learning and not just working.
Ripley is a Water Rocks educator and conservation outreach specialist.