NOAA Hollings Science & Education Symposium Week

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

This past semester was a long adjustment period of figuring out my life at Juniata again, but also trying to think about my future. But before I leap into the future, I want to reflect on the end of my summer and my internship.

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NOAA Symposium Week

All the Hollings scholars spent the last week of the Hollings internship in Silver Spring, MD at the NOAA headquarters. The goal of this week is to practice presenting posters or presentations and learn about other interns’ projects.

In addition, we got to rekindle friendships that we previously made at the orientation and network with like minded students. We also had free time to explore the DC area after our day ended.

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Project Results

If you are not sure what my project was, visit here to gain the full background on it.

First, one of my proudest accomplishments is that I created a full traditional lesson plan and an online Story Map for students and teachers to learn about marsh restoration. Second, I was able to use these two platforms to evaluate student and teachers perspectives.

Ultimately, my project highlighted that both students and teachers have a preference for blended learning, which includes a mixed use of technology and traditional teaching methods.

Through short interviews, I was able to understand how technology is used in science classrooms, the advantages and disadvantages, and how we can improve resources we provide for teachers to use.

Also, for my science-minded friends, here is an abstract:

It can be problematic to engage students in science because some concepts are difficult for students to visualize. One way of alleviating this issue includes using authentic research from scientists, allowing students to explore real-world situations. With the advancement of digital technology tools, teachers are beginning to implement digital learning to aid classroom instruction and the student learning process. Esri Story Maps is an evolving tool that allows end users to explore a topic through images, videos, interactive maps, data, figures, and text. This platform is accessible for educators, researchers, industry professionals, and even students. The objective of the study was to compare perspectives of translating science through traditional learning versus digital learning. For this project, current research focused on a thin-layer placement marsh restoration technique experiment in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) was translated into a lesson plan and Story Map. In addition, a series of short interviews with teachers and students were conducted to understand their perspectives on digital learning. Those same teachers were then provided an opportunity to evaluate the two learning tools and both tools were tested with high school students attending a summer camp at Chesapeake Bay NERR in Virginia. This study outlines the difficulties with utilizing technology in the classroom, but it also highlights the benefits when used in a strategic manner. By better understanding student and teacher perspectives on digital learning, we are able to provide useful resources to assist teachers in quality science education.

I gave a presentation and I had a family friend, a previous coworker, and one of my mentors come watch!

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Are you a science educator?

Check out my tools…Even if you aren’t check out my lesson plan (Mitigating Marshes Against Sea Level Rise) and Story Map!

While in DC…

I had the opportunity to meet up with some of my friends from study abroad!!

Also, I went with some other scholars to the zoo, a Nationals game, saw Bryce Vine in concert, and went to the botanic garden. It was really great to see my peers and spend time with them again. We also continued our tradition and watched another Sharknado movie.

It was a great week and I had a lot of fun sharing science!

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Last of Summer

In the brief time I had before my job training, classes, and cheerleading began, I took a trip up north to visit some friends.

New Haven

First, I went to New Haven, CT to visit my friend Charles from my internship at Oak Ridge National Lab. He is an adult now…works a real job, lives with housemates, etc. It was really great to see what he is doing after graduating and catch up.

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Boston

Then, I went to Boston, MA to visit my best friend from studying abroad, Nicola. I have not spent much time in the area before, so it was really fun to explore and see where she grew up.

I even ventured to Harvard to beg them to accept me. HA just kidding…

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Cape Cod, MA

Nicola and I spent the weekend at her family’s lovely home in Cape Cod. However, on the way we made a quick stop in Duxbury to see my family’s burial plot from years ago at the Mayflower Cemetary.

We spent the weekend catching up, going to the beach, eating seafood, and exploring Provincetown and Wellfleet.

I had so much fun visiting my friends and waved a sad goodbye to summer my last of summer.

Don’t forget to follow my blog to receive updates!

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Travelers illness(es), snorkeling, and scuba diving

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

¡Hola!

Okay, I know…It has really been awhile this time.

But hey, I am living on island time now!

Sunset on Playa Mann (Photo By: Kayelyn Smith)
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It has been a wild ride so far here on San Cristobal in the Galapagos. I have learned so much about the island, the wildlife, and the locals. I had an adjustment period when I got to Quito in January and I had yet another when I arrived here too.

However, I am WAY more happier here than I ever was in Quito. I have learned from living there that I am not a city girl. Also, I found it pretty easy to adjust to island life and the small town. I think this was so easy for me because my university, Juniata College, is a small campus located in a small town. My high school also had a small number of students and was in a town where everyone knew each other. Therefore, being here just reminds me of being in those environments, which I think is very different for some people in my program who are from cities or larger universities.

Before I get into the details of island life, let me tell you a story about my journey from the mainland to here.

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Quito -> Galapagos

I was supposed to leave on Sunday, February 3rd. I was excited because I was sick of the city and was just ready to be at the beach. However, I woke up that morning and vomited. A lot. I was so nauseated. A lot of thoughts went through my head, “Is my Crohn’s flaring? What did I eat? What do I do?”. I did what I do best and pulled myself together the best I could. I was able to take a taxi to the university where we were going to board the bus for the airport. Long story short, I vomited a lot more and ended up having to miss my flight. I went to the clinic and was treated for a stomach infection, which is common in travelers because the food is so different. My program coordinator here helped me through every step at the doctor, getting medicine, and changing my flight. I spent 2 extra days in Quito recovering so that I would be at my best when I arrive for the islands. I watched a lot of Netflix.

When the plane was approaching San Cristobal, I looked out the window with the elderly Ecuadorian men I was sitting with in awe. The beautiful blue waters and green landscapes were unbelievable. As we descended from the air to land, I could not help but tear up a little. It was finally happening. My dream was coming true. I was going to LIVE in the Galapagos.

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Finalmente

Photo By: Ethan Letourneau

When I got off the airplane, it was my first time directly walking down the steps onto the landing strip. My program coordinator for the island picked me up from the airport and took me first to the campus to put my medication in the fridge since my Humira is so temperature sensitive. We then went to my host family’s house.

My host family situation is just my host mom currently, but I really enjoy it because I get a lot of attention. My host mom’s nick name is Bachita and she is very happy to have me here. She enjoys hosting people, cooking, and cleaning. We are able to communicate in Spanish because I was able to practice my speaking skills so much in Quito with my taxi drivers. I am really glad I took Spanish all throughout high school and in college so far. Even though there is a lot of tourism here, not everyone speaks English. I have really enjoyed being able to practice so much and learn new vocabulary and geographical differences in the language. Overall, I love living with Bachita and she takes good care of me!

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But wait, aren’t you taking classes?

The JC Banner in the office at the GAIAS campus

Yes! I have just finished two modules, which was the past 6 weeks of classes (each course was 3 weeks).

My first course was Marine Life. This course was focused on studying specific groups in the marine ecosystem. We had lecture from 9am to 12pm on days when we did not have field trips. We took advantage of our surrounding environment during the class. We snorkeled at Playa Mann, the beach right outside of campus, and Cerro Tijeretas, to study the fish species there. In addition, we snorkeled at Kicker Rock, also known as León Dormido due to the shape of the rock looking like a “sleeping lion”. While there, we saw many shark species and birds.

My class also visited La Loberia to study both the terrestrial and aquatic species that can be found there. Unfortunately, this is when stomach plague number two hit me. The night before, I began vomiting multiple times. There is one public hospital on the island and it is the same place you go for a minor issue such as a bad cough. My host mom took me there for rehydration and anti nausea medication. I spent about 12 hours there. Thankfully, I did feel a lot better after receiving treatment. In these situations, knowing Spanish has been very helpful. Although treatment is free there, it is important to remember that as a “Gringo” or just a white person, you will get treated differently. It is difficult to get tests to help figure out what is actually wrong with you unless you specifically request and pester them about it. In addition, it is just not as common to figure out exactly what is wrong, their focus is to treat and get you on your way. However, this definitely varies based on person, symptoms, and who came with you to the hospital. For example, when one of my program coordinators came, she managed to get me all sorts of tests and medications.

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Scuba Certified

Before my next course began, my goal was to get my scuba diving certification for Open Water. We began on a Saturday afternoon with watching the videos. It was a hot room where; it was hard to stay awake. Afterwards, some of us treated ourselves to some pizza. You do not realize how much you miss food from the United States until you have it. The next day we did our pool dive. We learned how to put together the gear and practiced safety skills in the pool. It was definitely a very different experience that I have never had before. Overall, it was really fun though.

The next weekend, we dived right off the shore from Playa Mann in a shallow area so we could get used to the gear in an open environment. We had to expedite the processes of getting our certifications so that we would have it in time to dive in our next course, so the next day we dived again. We dived at Cerro Tijeretas, which was amazing! We saw sea turtles, sea stars, and amazing fish. It was also really great practice in an area with some currents. After returning from our dive, we took our exams to get certified and by the next day, we were officially PADI Open Water scuba divers!

Thank you Wreck Bay Diving Center!!!
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Back to Business

My next class, Marine Ecology, began that Monday. This class was taught by the same professor from my Techniques of Marine Research 1 class from Quito. I was excited to see her again because I learned a lot from her in the previous class and she has a well-structured course. She packed a lot of things into a 3-week course. In addition, we had a 2nd professor who was doing research here on a Fullbright. We assisted her in part of her project in the lab doing a heat stress and a cold stress experiment on corals here. I knew nothing about the coral communities in the Galapagos until now and she brought a lot of knowledge to our lectures in class. Our field trips included snorkeling at Rosa Blana, which is a mangrove site, snorkeling and hiking at Punta Pitt, and scuba diving at Kicker Rock/León Dormido.

At Punta Pitt, we hiked to see nesting blue footed boobies!

Now cue me getting sick….AGAIN. This time was the worst. Non-stop diarrhea and vomiting. However, the next day I was supposed to go scuba diving at Kicker Rock. This field trip was the whole reason I expedited my scuba class. So, I did what I do best and pulled myself together. I probably should not have, but I do not regret it one bit. I was not able to do the first dive, but I felt better after vomiting on the boat (my 4th time vomiting in 20 hours) and joined the second dive. I saw sharks and felt great underwater (thanks adrenaline)…you only live once!! I went to the hospital immediately after getting off the boat because I was very dehydrated. I spent the next few days feeling awful. I went back to the hospital a second time because I was still so sick. I finally felt better after a week. I promise, I am taking care of myself! Many other students are also very sick. There is a lot of new and different bacteria here.

Scuba Diving at Leon Dormido/Kicker Rock after vomiting 4 times
After the dive…
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Returning to the good stuff.

In both of my courses, my professors tasked us with creating and performing a small research project here. My first project was an observational study on the sea lion populations here and how they react to human presence. This is a hot topic here because the sea lions are EVERYWHERE. You will be walking down the sidewalk and all the sudden almost step on a sea lion. They also really enjoy hanging out on benches. However, tourists often do not respect the boundaries and attempt to get close to the animals. We were curious as to how the sea lions reacted to these attempts at various locations. Some sea lions are very reactive, but most are used to human presence.

In my Marine Ecology course, my group studied the interactions between fish and sea turtles. We filmed sea turtles and observed the cleaning symbiosis. Algae and sessile organisms gather on sea turtle bodies and fish will come feed on these organisms cleaning off the sea turtles. In addition, some fish will follow sea turtles as they feed to take advantage of the nutrients being uncovered when they forage in benthic sediment. It was really neat to see these interactions here.

I am going to end this post here, but I will be focusing more in my next post on the everyday life here and the ins and outs of the Galapagos. I promise I am actually having fun and living! I just had Spring Break and did some island hopping.

Enjoy some photos below of my island exploration!

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Here’s to less stress and more health!

Puerto Chino

Orientation Week: ¿hablo español?

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

¡Saludos de Ecuador!

I have had my first few weeks here in Ecuador and I am finally starting to feel more comfortable. The first week was very difficult. It was definitely over stimulation at its finest and I want to give a shout out to the people who watched me cry when it was too much…

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I had to:

  • Take a week long Spanish boot camp (or you could call it class)
  • Learn more about the program and what to expect
  • Sit through multiple orientations
  • Maintain my medicine’s temperature
  • Make new friends
  • Get used a new family dynamic
  • Master the art of Uber and talking to Taxi drivers
  • Sleep
  • and last but not least, getting used to being in a totally different country!!!!

Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy to be here and excited for the adventures to come, but it is just very difficult to adapt and learn so many new things at once. If you planning on studying abroad or this is your first time also, just remember that you are not alone. Everyone is in the same position and dealing with something extra that could make it more difficult to adapt.

The best thing to do is communicate with those who are trying to help you and let them know what you need. I am someone who gets pretty stressed out and anxious often, so this is not everyone’s experience and mine is probably more extreme. However, if you are feeling slightly how I felt, do not worry, it will get better!!!!

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Monday

The first day, I went to the campus in the morning with the my host cousin because he also attends USFQ and was working on his thesis. He showed me around campus a little before dropping me off at the main entrance to meet everyone else. At the entrance, I saw more people who looked like me – lost students who do not look like everyone else.

We started mingling and talking about where we were from, what school we go to, and what we are studying. I met people who live near me in Maryland, go to school near me in Pennsylvania, and I even found one of my friend’s roommates from freshman year of college. It is a SMALL WORLD.

We split into groups and toured the campus, which is quite beautiful. Almost more beautiful than Juniata, in a very Ecuadorian way. I mean Juniata has nice grass and all, but here there’s a pond, waterfall, quad, AND palm trees.

The “lagoon”
A professor painted/designed this on campus
View of the town from the bridge that connects the mall and campus

One thing I love about the stable weather here is that no one is worried about keeping their air conditioning or heat in their homes. Windows and doors are always open and the campus has a lot of outdoor places. I love it so much.

After receiving our SIM cards for our Ecuadorian phone numbers, we had lunch and then went to our Spanish classes, which we had from 2:00pm to 5:00pm every day the first week.

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Tuesday

We sat through many orientations and one of them was in the morning this day. We heard about the Galapagos Islands history and society and about culture shock in general. It is definitely helpful to hear about what to expect to be different here in Quito and in the Galapagos. Apparently, the hardest part is coming back to the United States. Stay tuned for that craziness since this is my first time in another country.

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Wednesday

This was a beautiful morning. Our program scheduled a tour Old Town Quito. Cumbayá is a 30 minute drive from downtown Quito area. We got on a bus early in the morning so that we could complete the tour in time to make it to our Spanish class. Our first stop was El Panecillo, a very steep hill, home to “Virgen de Quito” or the “Madonna of Quito”. The Madonna is an aluminum, 148 foot sculpture that can be seen from many places in the city.

She also has a beautiful view of Quito and Cotopaxi, a volcano in the Andes Mountains.

We walked around the town, Plaza De La Independencia, and toured some cool places. First we went into “La Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus”, in English: “The Church of the Society of Jesus”. It was so beautiful inside, laced with gold, statues, and story telling pictures.

Next, we went to The Church and Convent of San Francisco. There was a beautiful open courtyard, with birds and gorgeous trees.

We had the opportunity to go to the top of the church, which had a great view!

Due to time, we were only able to view the outside of “Basílica del Voto Nacional”. I definitely want to go inside and go up to the top of the church before I leave.

Lastly, we had a beautiful lunch at a local restaurant.

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Thursday

This day was far from exciting. Many students had to go to Quito to get our bank statements notarized for our visa applications. I attempted to get my visa before leaving the United States, but it is a very very very long process and I just did not have time. I then of course went to my Spanish class and then studied for my final and worked with my group on our final presentation.

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Friday

We had a large international student orientation this day, which just consisted of more orientation presentation. Then we had our last day of Spanish class and final! It was a long class and I was glad it was over. Although I love practicing my Spanish, I do not enjoy sitting in a 3 hour class about it.

We celebrated after class and enjoyed Friday night in Cumbayá.

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Saturday

Early Saturday morning, a few of us got on a bus in Quito to go to Mindo. The 2 hour bus ride was so cheap compared to the United States, only $3!!

Taken by a stranger who did not realize we were missing the “O”

We arrived late morning and booked a tour through the cloud forest. After lunch, we went into the forest with our guide and saw all sorts of beautiful plants and insects. We got to one part on the path where we had to cross the river. The trip we paid for included a trek across a rope bridge. I do not know how to explain it so just take a look for yourself at the trauma I put myself through:

By Jintong Wu
By Jintong Wu

Our hike after the bridge included many uphill climbs but we did get to see 3 small waterfalls and beautiful views.

On the way back across the river, we able to take a cable car thankfully so I did not have to put myself through that pain again.

After our hike, we wanted to see more waterfalls. We went up to the Nambilla Cascadas to hike to a big waterfall that you can swim in apparently. However, we got the wrong instructions and ended up not having enough time before the park closed to make it there. I have never hiked so hard in my life. My FitBit said we hiked 10 miles that day.

Not sure who took this…

My friend and I ate dinner and then took a taxi home to Cumbayá. Many people spent the night but I was ready to sleep in my “own” bed.

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Sunday

Although I slept in my own bed, I got up early to go to Teleférico Quito with some friends. Sleep is for the weak! Teleférico is a gondola ride up the side of the Pichincha Volcano to view the city of Quito from one of its highest points. At the top of the long ride, there is more hiking paths available to the volcano’s summit. There is also snack shops and a flavored oxygen bar. Quito is already at such a high altitude, which causes a lot of pressure and fatigue on your body, but this experience takes that even higher.

Flavored oxygen bar

The view up the gondola was absolutely gorgeous.

Unfortunately, although we went early in the morning, it was too cloudy to get some of the views.

By Ellie Mendelson

However, we still walked around the path at the top and enjoyed the swings! We even had a little break in the clouds to see some of below. If you go to Teleferico in Quito, make sure you have good weather to get the best view.

By Ellie Mendelson
By Ellie Mendelson
By Ellie Mendelson

After, we all went to my friend’s host family’s house and made lunch with my friend’s host sister. It was delicious.

And that was my first week in Quito, Ecuador.

I have a bunch of Go Pro footage but this site does not seem to support videos. Will be figuring out how to share it best soon!

P.S. I miss having ranch dressing in restaurants…but the food is pretty good.

Ecuador: ¡Estoy Aqui!

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Hola!

I am beginning my journey abroad in Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands.

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This semester, I will be participating in the Galápagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS) program with Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ). I will be taking five courses that are divided into 3-week modules: Techniques of Marine Research 1, Marine Life, Marine Ecology, Marine Ecosystem Based Management, and Techniques of Marine Research 2. I will be spending my first month living with a family in Quito. During that time, I will be taking a week long Spanish intensive course and will complete my first module, which includes an 7 day trip to the coast of Ecuador.

After my first module is complete, I will travel to the Galapagos Islands on February 3rd. I will be on San Cristobal, where I will be living with another host family and taking my courses at the remote campus there. I will spend all of my time on the islands until May 5th.

I am so excited for this opportunity and would like to thank the Juniata College study abroad office for helping me prepare and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for making this financially possible. The support of the Gilman not only has helped financially, but they also have provided me with many resources I can utilize while abroad.

Hope you enjoy the recap of the beginnings of my adventure to Ecuador.

¡Hasta luego!

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Flight Woes

On January 5th, I arrived to the airport in Washington, DC. At the airport, a family friend, Janet Ady, brought me a filtering water bottle and came to say goodbye! It was nice to talk to a seasoned traveler right before leaving.

Saying goodbye was far from easy. My mom and I cried a lot. My brother and I hugged for awhile. I am so lucky to have their support and I will miss them immensely. I appreciate them so much and love them more than anything!

Unfortunately, my first flight was delayed and it was supposed to cause me to arrive too late in Houston to get on my next scheduled flight to Ecuador. I was landing at the time my flight to Quito was departing. The next flight out would have been 6:00pm the next day. I was fully prepared to spend the night in Houston once I arrived. When I landed, I asked an agent about my hotel voucher and my new flight assignment. He told me it would be quicker if I went to a different gate agent, until he was done with his duties helping the plane unload.

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So I started walking towards the gate he suggested and I realized it was near the gate my original Quito flight was departing from. So I figured I would check the gate just in case because when I landed, the United app still did not report that the flight departed yet, as it typically does. As I walked there, I opened the app and refreshed my flight page again (I did it a million time due to numerous updates). The app indicated that my original flight to Quito was delayed…I took a double take. “Is this real life??”, I thought to myself. I jogged to the gate to find out if this was true.

As I was approaching, I sized up the scene: an official looking man on the phone, an agent, and an empty gate. I thought I was too late and then the man says to me, “Are you flying to Quito?”. I nodded and he sighed, “Well today is your lucky day”. He was so right. It certainly was.

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He explained that there was an alleged mouse on the plane and they were going to switch planes. I was worried my seat might have already been given away, but they got a larger plane and I was able to make it on. I even got the whole row to myself!

Everyone who heard my story was impressed and cheered me on. Well, they were not clapping or anything, but they shared in my excitement and surprise that it worked out in the end.

Traveling With A Chronic Illness

Throwback to my Crohn’s flare in Tennessee

As many of you know, I have Crohn’s Disease and was diagnosed in 2013. I take Humira, an injection medication, every week to manage my symptoms. As a biologic medicine, Humira must be kept between 36-46 degrees F.

I will be studying abroad for a whole semester. That means, I needed to bring 17 weeks worth of medication and that meant 17 Humira pens. So how the heck did I manage to keep that many injectable pens in that temperature range for so long?!

I did it thanks to Polar Bear Coolers. I found this cooler when I was researching about taking biologic medicine abroad and I found someone’s chronic illness blog mentioning their success. I then went to the website and found a recommendation for the product from a rheumatoid arthritis patient with a high ambition for travelling. This seemed promising. I also bought the suggested wireless thermometer to track the temperature. After some trials at home, we found the product to work great and that it should be able to handle my flights!

The best part about the cooler is that I can even add loose ice to it without it leaking. This was very beneficial on the plane. I had to let TSA open my cooler to make sure the ice was solid and the equilibrium got little out of whack. However, with the added ice from the fight attendant, I was able to get it back to the correct temperature. They have many different sizes and it does not have to be a backpack, but that was most convenient for me.

I highly recommend this product to anyone with an ambition to travel and a temperature sensitive medicine. Chronic illness has tried to stop me many times in my life and I refused to let it stop me from exploring the world and pursuing my dreams.

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“Welcome to Ecuador, my dear”

That’s what the worker in customs said to me at 7 a.m. when I finally landed in Quito. I was exhausted, nervous, and excited all at once. I watched the mountains fly by me as I rode in the taxi to Cumbayá, a parish in Quito where USFQ campus is located and my host family lives. I breathed in the new air as best as I could…because the altitude change is so drastic that was a little hard.

My host family’s house is beautiful. They have a nice yard with many plants and a garden. There are hammocks hung up and dogs running around the yard. My room is right off of the glass patio, which allows in the beautiful rays of the strong sun. Natural wood makes up a majority of the interior of the house.

One of the biggest differences I have noticed about Ecuador so far is that leaving the door open or the windows open is normal. The climate here is fairly stable and people are not worried about keeping in their heat or air conditioning because they do not need it.

I will be sharing details from my first few weeks in Quito, Ecuador soon. I am just so busy doing the things I am going to write about right now that I do not have much time.

Sneak Peek
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Taken by: Ellie Mendelson

Until then…

Don’t forget to follow my Instagram: @Stephs.logbook

To the students following my blog, feel free to message me questions!!!

“A dream will always triumph over reality, once it is given a chance.”

Stanislaw Lem

My Real World

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.


The lake and the mountains have become my landscape, my real world.

Georges Simenon

Hello? Hi, its me! Remember me?

Wow, oh wow! It has been awhile. I have finally found time to crawl out from under my pile of work, stress, land commitments to write (for fun this time…but more about that later).

Midterms

As the semester progressed, midterms became closer and the stress was climbing. At the field station, since we have each class all day once a week, midterms were slightly spread out. This was so we did not have to cram and stress for multiple exams at once. Fall Break gave us a little break during that time from October 11th-14th. We all survived and made it through together. One nice thing about living with people who are taking the same classes as you are is that you can study together. We took advantage of that and helped each other understand the content. We definitely feel each other’s struggles!

Class at Balance Rock in Trough Creek State Park
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The End of Boating Season

As the weather got colder, our opportunities to go out on the boat for class were growing slim. Our limnology professor took advantage of Raystown Lake for the last time with our class. We replicated our survey from the beginning of the semester to compare data from different seasons. This was a very cold morning and unfortunately one of our boats broke down. However, it was nice to have one last boat ride this semester.

A few of us also decided to kayak for the last time. It was just barely warm enough and it was super windy. It was a lot easier to paddle in when we got to the cove out of the wind. If you ever want to experience ocean kayaking, just put in at the field station on a windy day!

Research, Research, and More Research

My research project for the semester is completed and I just finished writing the first draft of my paper for it. It has been a lot of work and A LOT of writing this past week! We spent our snow day last week writing our papers all day long by the warm fireplace in Shuster Hall. As a refresher, my group studied the effects of Acid or Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD) restoration in Miller Run. This stream is located in a previously mined region in Central PA. The local watershed association has completed many restoration projects and our goal was to monitor the streams progress in recovery. We sampled various water quality parameters, kick netted for benthic macroinvertebrates, and electrofished for brook trout in the stream. We only spent 3 days in the field, but many more days in the lab identifying macroinvertebrates. To be honest, I have never identified anything to the genus level, so this was very difficult. However, I learned fast (thanks to help from classmates and professors) and feel like I have learned a lot from this experience! I will be receiving revisions on my paper from my professor in the upcoming weeks and will complete the paper. 

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Also, I revisited my project from the Spring semester, which was tracking the movement of brown trout in the Little Juniata River. I had to opportunity to join other students on the project to present our research at a poster session as part of the 2018 Susquehanna River Symposium at Bucknell University. It was intriguing to see the other research occurring within the watershed and to answer questions about my own work. We also heard from Christopher E. Williams, who is the Senior Vice President for Conservation for American Rivers. The company’s website states their mission is “to protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers and conserve clean water for people and nature”. Williams discussed his career path, which included law school. He also discussed how our world is entering a “water insecure future” and what that means for our resources. This also includes having too much water; for example, the flooding in Ellicott City. Rivers are important for channeling water and also for providing it. This does not even account for the life in the water and the surrounding areas that rely on the resource. Overall, it was an interesting keynote address and it definitely had me thinking about the big picture of all of my freshwater research. 

Lastly, I am presenting my research from last summer at ORNL in a poster session on December 13th in Washington D.C. at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2018. The conference is being held at Walter E. Washington Convention Center. If you are planning on attending or know a colleague attending, let me know! I would love to connect with more scientists. I will be attending the conference late due to my finals in the beginning of the week, but I will be there the 13th and the 14th.

Here are the details:

Abstract Title: Quantifying Fine-root Branching Response to Experimental Ecosystem Warming Utilizing Image Analysis Software 
Presentation Type: Poster 
Session Date and Time: Thursday, 13 December 2018; 13:40 – 18:00 
Session Number and Title: B43M: Plant–Soil Interactions Under Global Warming: Learning Mechanisms from Multiyear Field Experiments and Natural Gradients Posters 
Location: Convention Center; Hall A-C (Poster Hall)

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Study Abroad

As this semester comes to an end, my plans for study abroad have begun. I was officially accepted to the GAIAS program through Universidad San Francisco de Quito a few weeks ago. I am currently in the midst of attaining my VISA, scheduling flights and classes, and figuring out my medications while abroad. There is a lot to do before I go, but I am really excited!!! I cannot believe it is almost a month away.

NOAA Internship

In my last post, I mentioned that on October 1st the database for Hollings scholars to begin viewing internships would open. I spent a few days casually viewing the projects listed and gawking at the amazing locations they were in. However, I did not see a project that really stuck out to me, but I decided to pick a few that I wanted to learn more about and could see myself participating in. I emailed one potential mentor about his project and scheduled a phone interview. After sending that email and not feeling as excited as I felt I should, I decided to look more into the projects that included some outreach or education. In 2017, I had an environmental education internship and loved it, but I knew that was not all I wanted to do. In 2018, I had a research internship and also loved the experience, but it still did not fulfill everything I wanted. I always thought it would be great to have a job where I could do research and outreach. I also really love studying the Chesapeake Bay, but I was trying to go to another ecosystem. 

Well, you know what? Like my dad says, the doors of opportunity do not just open for me. Instead, they run up and throw themselves down in front of me. There was this one project that I saw when I first looked and it had the word education in it. I did not even click on the description because I kept telling myself, “This is NOAA! You should do research!”. You can guess what happened next. The words “Chesapeake Bay” finally called my name enough and curiosity caused me to click on the project. I only read the first few sentences before I copied the whole internship information page and emailed it to my mom with the subject “AMAZING INTERNSHIP OPPORTUNITY”. 

I emailed, scheduled a Skype interview, had the interview, and got the position. It was an amazing interview and I never felt more qualified or excited about something in my career. They emailed me less than an hour after our interview to offer me the position. It really feels meant to be! I will be doing a site visit on December 16th-18th to meet my mentors, tour the facility, and the area. 

My project is “Translating Chesapeake Bay Research and Stewardship Projects into Useful, Hands-on Education Products” at the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia on the campus of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). This project is exciting for me because I will get to do both of the things I love: research and outreach. I will be living in Williamsburg, VA this summer and will also be looking for apartments for the summer soon. Let me know if you have any connections to the area or any tips for my upcoming summer.

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Field Station Fun

As always, I try to share some of what I do when I am not in class or doing research. At the station, we have had a lot of fun and bonding experiences lately. In early October, we dug out this years crop from the potato patch! We have been eating lots of yummy potatoes as a result of this adventure. 

To celebrate Halloween, we carved pumpkins as a group, toasted pumpkin seeds, and decorated our fireplace for the season.

Each semester, the station hosts an Etiquette Dinner to teach us which fork to use and how not to embarrass ourselves in that kind of setting. Our group also decided we wanted to do a “murder mystery” game. Everyone dressed up in character assigned ahead of time and we enjoyed our meal, while trying to discover who the “murderer” was. We definitely had a lot of fun!

While trying to finish up our papers, we had a snow day. Due to the limited time in class, we still received work over email, but it was still a snow day! I spent the majority of the day writing, but in the evening when the snow ended, some of us decided it was the right time to go sledding in the drive way. 

I never thought I was going to experience snow at the field station, but I am really glad I did. It was so beautiful!

Also…we are in the woods so sometimes trees fall…in the middle of the road.

Call me Lumberjack Letourneau!

Our class spent one day collecting and identifying macroinvertebrates to assess the health of another AMD stream in PA for community service. Shout out to Marissa for the awesome picture!

Lastly, my mom came and visited one weekend. I took her to Trough Creek State Park and Rainbow Falls. We took pictures and she even got some of me!

See you after finals!!! 🙂

Raystown, Oneida & Ontario

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Happy Fall!

The past month has been far from boring. So let’s jump right into it!

From September 10th -14th, the students at the field station spent a week at the Cornell University Biological Field Station on Oneida Lake in the Finger Lake Region of New York. We woke up early on Monday and hopped into the vans for our long road trip. When we arrived, I took advantage of the time of day and the location to take some pictures for Nature Photography.

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The Cornell field station looked like old farm buildings in a field next to a lake, but the interiors were renovated and the labs had all the necessary equipment. They have a lot of land that extends all the way to the lake where they have their own boats and dock area.

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Our first day of programming started at the Cornell field station with two presentations from the researchers from Cornell. They presented information about the biology and history of Oneida Lake and shared their research projects with us. We met the lab assistants and learned about the partnerships the lab has for their research.

We spent our afternoon studying the fish in Oneida by seining  A majority of our group has taken Itchyology and they were able to teach me how to identify some fish. We also found a Mudpuppy!

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The next day, we traveled to the USGS Lake Ontario Field Station. The lake is absolutely beautiful! We learned about the research that they do there, the lake’s history, and their role in the Great Lakes research. They showed us their lab and equipment. Their boat was not there at the time because it was being maintained, so sadly they could not take us out on the lake. However, they were very informative and gave us great career advice.

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Lake Ontario

They also suggested that we go to the Salmon River Hatchery up the road.

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When we got there, the guide gave us some background information and then one of the fish culturists gave us a tour. He explained how their operation works with the different species such as chinook salmon, coho salmon, and steelhead. We saw where they process the fish for eggs, where they raise them, and the tanks that they hold them in to grow. It was very cool to see the operation that is so imperative to the fisheries and recreation in New York.

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On our 4th day, we traveled to find a pine barrens environment and did some macroinvertebrate sampling in the stream we found at the end of the path. We went back to Oneida Lake that afternoon where we went fishing and swimming in the lake. I did not catch anything, but it was a beautiful day to enjoy the water. That evening we had a shrimp and crawdad boil!!!

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We also enjoyed a campfire by the lake which was a great way to end our time at the Cornell field station.

On the way home, we stopped at the renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We toured their collections of skins, the lab, and ichthyology specimens as part of the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates. It was amazing to see this and how they process their specimens. Preserving and collecting is a part of science I have not had much exposure to and I was really intrigued.

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Luckily, we did not miss Mountain Day at Juniata. It ended up being the Thursday after we got back. Since Mountain Day is held at Seven Points Marina on Raystown Lake, we took our field station’s boat to get there. Talk about arriving in style!!! To recap from my last post, Mountain Day is a Juniata tradition where classes are cancelled by surprise on a random day and students and staff get to enjoy outdoor activities at the lake.

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The past two weeks, classes have been in full swing. In Limnology, we have been going out and practicing surveying nearby streams. We spent our whole day in a tributary stream in Trough Creek State Park. I decided to skip on wearing waders that day because they always end up getting water in them for me. So I wet-wadded in the stream while doing a pebble count, which involves picking up rocks at random points along a distance of the stream and classifying them by size. I ended up swimming…

The following Limnology class, we had our midterm exam.  I cannot believe we are already halfway through the semester.  I feel like I just moved into the field station yesterday.  However, this place has become my home and I definitely never want to leave.

For Aquatic Ecology, we went out on the boat on Raystown Lake and performed zooplankton sampling in areas with differing nutrient richness. We practiced identifying them in the lab and I thought it was so cool! They have interesting structures and functions. We preserved our samples and will do more identification, comparing the sampling locations.

Nature Photography is going well and I am enjoying taking my pictures. I notice the details of my environment much more now. Here are some of my favorite pictures that I have taken so far:

My research project has been developed and we visited the site this month. In the next few weeks, we will be doing our field and lab work to get our data for analysis. We will be studying the effects of Acid Mine Drainage remediation on macroinvertebrate communities in Miller Run. Miller Run has undergone a variety of remediation projects and the aquatic communities were surveyed in 2013 by Juniata students. The downstream area is able to support aquatic life, but there was an overall lack of abundance. Our team is going to see if there has been improvement in the past five years.

This past week, the students at the field station assisted the US Army Corps of Engineers with an aquatic vegetation survey of Raystown Lake. We did rake tosses to pull up vegetation and used sonar to map along the shoreline. We were specifically tracking the hydrilla and the milfoil issues in the lake. This took two days, which meant spending two whole days on a boat. Needless to say, I could still feel the rocking of the wake when I was eating dinner at the end of the night. It was fun to learn how to identify aquatic vegetation and meet Army Corps employees from New York and Florida.

The last thing I want to mention is about my future! On October 1st, the database of NOAA internships for Hollings Scholars opened up. I now have access to many different projects from all over the country. I am still figuring out where I want to go and what kind of project I want to work on. I will keep you all posted on what happens. Before I go abroad in January, I have to go on a site visit to confirm my internship and make sure it is the right fit.

Stay tuned!! Until next time…

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads” -Henry David Thoreau

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Home Away From Home

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Waving hello from the lake!

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Field Station Harbor

On August 17th, I traveled to Juniata and spent five days with my teammates preparing to cheer for the football season. One of my favorite things about cheerleading is that it offers an escape from the stress of the day plus I get to see many of my friends. My coach is very supportive and always reminds us that our academics come first. We are at college to be students before we are athletes. During preseason, we had the opportunity to share our program with the local news. Check out our broadcast! There are links to our short segments below the text. I also was put on the spot for an interview. Our team has pride in being student athletes!

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Our team with Jordan Tracy of WTAJ

On August 22nd, I successfully moved into the Raystown Field Station. We had a presentation after moving in on field safety and then went down to the fire pit by the lake for s’mores and residential life information.

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The schedule at the field station includes having one class all day each day. Our first day was an introduction to the station, tours, and logistics.

My class schedule is:

Mondays – GIS

Tuesdays – Sense of Place Seminar and Nature Photography

Wednesdays – Research

Thursdays – Aquatic Ecology

Fridays – Limnology

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Our first class was Limnology on Friday. We have only had a few classes, but so far we have designed a leaf decomposition study as a class to evaluate nearby ponds and Raystown Lake. Our labs the past two weeks have comprised of going out on the lake on the boat and measuring the lake’s physical and chemical properties.

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Using a probe to measure dissolved oxygen at different depths of Raystown Lake

For GIS, we have been exploring the program and practicing creating maps or finding information. I am very excited to learn how to use GIS more and how it can help with my research.

Sense of Place seminar began with a boat tour of Raystown Lake, which included the basic science and history facts of the area. Who knew you could have a lecture on a boat? We also discussed our research projects for the semester. I am not sure what I am exactly studying yet, but I will be researching an acid mine drainage site.

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Boat tour of Raystown!

The first two weeks, we did not have anything on Wednesdays because we do not have our research projects established yet. My professor said, “Either make it a very productive day or a really good day”. I did a combination of both; I did some homework in the morning and spent the afternoon kayaking on the lake with some classmates.

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Nature photography is a lot of terminology and learning the basic concepts of how to take a good picture. It is particularly difficult to take pictures of wildlife because of their movements so we have learned a lot of specialized techniques so far. Our first project was a picture of a wildflower. Here are my first attempts! I am looking forward to improving my skills.

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Aquatic Ecology has been an introduction to ecology and learning the applications of these concepts in aquatic ecosystems. This course is unique because it is taught by Dr. Lane Loya from Saint Francis University.

One afternoon, we had a mini Lake Symposium to listen to researchers discuss the previous studies on Raystown Lake and the potential issues for the future. The presenters included a park ranger from the US Army Corps of Engineers, and from Juniata, Dr. Sharon Yohn and Dr. Chuck Yohn. It is interesting to learn about an ecosystem in which you live and about the different issues that have to be monitored.

I also enjoyed kayaking and going on a firework cruise on the lake with my mom on Labor Day weekend.

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From September 10th to 14th, our class at the field station is travelling to the Finger Lakes region of New York to study lakes and streams. We are going to be staying at the Cornell Biological Field Station and the USGS Lake Ontario Biological Station.

On the way home, we will stop at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I will be taking lots of pictures for Nature Photography while there so I will document a lot of the trip! Our Limnology and Aquatic Ecology professors will be joining us too, which will provide an immersive experience to apply everything we have learned and will learn this semester.

I wanted to end this post with some fun from one of Juniata’s traditions, Lobsterfest (Yes, sometimes I actually go back to campus.) It is an opportunity for students to sign up for clubs and enjoy delicious lobster on the quad.

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I am probably going to jinx myself, but another tradition at Juniata is Mountain Day. One day in the fall, classes are canceled and the school provides buses to take everyone to Seven Points Recreation Area on Raystown Lake for a day of outdoor fun including a picnic lunch, kayaking, slip and slide, inflatables, tug-of-war, and more. However, no one knows in advance when it is going be. As the JC website states, “trying to guess the date of Mountain Day is one of the most popular topics of conversation among the students and faculty in the weeks leading up to the event”. It really is. Students and professors will place bets when they think it will be and students will stay up all night if they think it might be the next day.

I really hope Mountain Day is not this upcoming week while we are in NY, but if it is we will get to pick another day in the semester as our own field station “mountain day”. I really want to go this year because we will be able to sail the research boat across the lake to get there.

I have already heard some rumors…so fingers crossed!!

Here’s to more adventures and beautiful sunsets on the lake.

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On The Road Again

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Hello from Maryland! I am enjoying my few days home before I go back to Juniata College. I have completed my internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It was an amazing experience and I am so glad that I was able to go. I learned many new researching skills, added interns and researchers to my network, and now have knowledge about fine roots, peatlands, and image analysis software.

Challenges & Successes

One thing not all my readers may know is that I have Crohn’s Disease. Unfortunately, I had a flare during the end of July and I spent one week in the hospital. The picture below perfectly expresses how trapped I felt; I wanted to go outside. I am very lucky to have to coworkers and the community that I do here. I had many visitors, including my mentor. I also was blessed to have so many people at home thinking of me and sending me flowers. I have spent quite some time now on the road to recovery. Luckily, I had already completed all my research, my poster, and just needed to wrap up my technical report. I am grateful that Department of Energy permitted me to complete my internship part time.

On my second day back at the lab, I presented my poster to other interns and researchers in the Environmental Sciences Division. It was exciting to share my research with so many people and to show how much I had accomplished regardless of my setbacks.

On August 9th, I had the opportunity to present my poster for researchers from all of ORNL, graduate recruiters, and other interns. It was really fun to be able to share my research with other scientists and interns. I am glad I felt healthy enough to be able to make it there.

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Other Environmental Science Division interns. Middle: Cameron Toerner, Right: Abbygail Ochs
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Presenting my poster on August 9th
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My Poster

In the future, I am excited to be able to attend the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in Washington, DC in December to present my research with my mentor.

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Research Results

My internship is now complete (well, when I submit the paper). That being said, I am very excited to finally be able to share the results of my research. If you need to refresh yourself more on the topic than what I am about to share, please go visit my post about Week 1.

I want to start by sharing this video from Department of Energy, highlighting the SPRUCE project as a whole. It is a great video to explain the long term goals of the project.

Above is an image of the poster I presented, which highlights important aspects of my results and conclusions. However, the image would be very small and hard to read if I pasted it here, so I broke it down below.

I have also included my 300-word abstract above the poster. Both convey basically the same thing, but the abstract is more developed content-wise and uses more complex language. The poster was designed as a visual aid for easy and quick reading, but also includes the graphs.

Choose the one that best fits your needs or read both!!

Abstract:

Quantifying fine-root branching response to experimental ecosystem warming utilizing image analysis software

Stephanie Letourneau (Juniata College, Huntingdon, PA 16652)

Avni Malhotra (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37830)

Colleen Iversen (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37830)

Peatlands store large amounts of soil carbon and this carbon is vulnerable to global change. Peatland carbon, if released into the atmosphere, could feedback into global warming via increased atmospheric greenhouse gases. Fine roots are adaptive and integral to biogeochemical processes due to their role in plant nutrient and water acquisition. Thus, the fine-root trait-environment relationships are key to modeling whole-ecosystem responses to climate change. For example, branching intensity (a root trait describing number of branch tips per unit length of root) can adapt to changing moisture and temperature, but the extent and mechanism of root branching in peatlands is unknown. Further, environmental responses of branching relative to other traits, such as root length and diameter, are unclear in peatlands, and can relate to plant resource allocation strategies. We sought to determine (1) if image analysis software (WinRHIZO™) can be used to evaluate branching intensity and (2) whether shrub fine-root branching intensity increases with warming (and associated drying). To address these objectives, we analyzed images of fine roots collected from cores at the “Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments” (SPRUCE) experiment. In SPRUCE, ten experimental plots provide temperature and atmospheric CO2 gradients. WinRHIZO™’s tip counts did not correlate with manual counts (R2= 0.56, p<0.001), especially in images with numerous roots. Thus, for objective (2), we manually counted root tips in images. We found no significant relationship between branching intensity and warming in the ambient CO2 plots, indicating that branching may not be the first trait responsive to warming. Rather, fine-root length responded strongly to warming. Conversely, in plots with elevated CO2, branching and temperature correlated strongly and positively (R2=0.84, p =0.03). This result suggests that branching response to warming varies by CO2 concentrations. Our study provides valuable data on root traits for future global climate and peatland models.

Poster:

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Results and Discussion

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THIS LABEL IS SUPPOSED TO BE ON THE GRAPH ON THE RIGHT:

ρ=0.9, p-value=0.04

(copy and paste does not agree with me)

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I would like to thank my mentor Dr. Avni Malhotra and my co-interns for all of the support and encouragement along this journey!!! I learned so much and I had fun while doing it.

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Surprise!!

While I was ill, I received an email from Lee Popkin, the director of the John Muir Scholarship from the Sierra Club Catoctin Group. I received the John Muir Scholarship from the club when I was a senior in high school to support my college tuition. I have kept in touch with him and gave him updates on my educational adventures. I am very honored that the club has offered me an additional scholarship to help with my tuition and study abroad in the spring. It is great that the program is evolving to be able to do this! I am very grateful and I am excited they have been so supportive of my journey.

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Moving Forward

My next adventure is the beginning of my junior year at Juniata College! I have been looking forward to this semester since I was in high school. I am going to be living and taking all my classes at the Raystown Field Station. This semesters theme is Aquatic Ecology, which will allow me to further study the freshwater ecosystems in Pennsylvania. When I say I am living at the lake, I really mean it. Look how close it is!!

From Juniata.edu RFS

At the field station, classes are divided by days, except Nature Photography, which is an evening course. Here’s my course list and descriptions from the schedule.

  • Limnology: “An ecology/environmental science course covering inland aquatic environments (lakes and streams).”
  • Aquatic Ecology and Lab: “They will focus one or more special environmental skills, methods, approaches or technologies. In the lecture component of this course, we will focus on concepts and vocabulary central to understanding the science of Ecology as applied to freshwater systems. We will investigate the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of wetlands, streams, rivers, ponds and lakes.”
  • Geographical Information System: “An introduction to a Geographical Information System (GIS), and the course objective is that students gain a basic, partial understanding of GIS concepts, technical issues, and applications using Arc View GIS. It encourages thinking in spatial context. A diverse array of hands-on computer applications and projects are used to understand how geographical data can be analyzed spatially. Students explore analysis techniques in a problem basis learning approach using small team projects.”
  • Sense of Place Seminar: “This is the “cornerstone” of the Sense of Place semester, managed by one faculty, but comprised of a series of modules taught by various faculty and guest speakers. Module topics cover a range of environmental, ecological, and societal issues connecting to the region. Students will be expected to journal their experiences at RFS as well as complete other writing assignments.”
  • Nature Photography: not much of a description exists but you can imagine what this is. Expect many cool photos this fall!
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See You Soon!

I am traveling to Juniata August 17th to begin preseason for cheerleading, moving into the field station on the 22nd, then starting courses on the 23rd. I will be driving back to campus for cheerleading practice and games while I am studying and living at the lake. I am very fortunate to be able to enjoy both of these opportunities this fall.

Toto, I’ve got a feeling we aren’t in Maryland anymore

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Greetings from Tennessee!!

So yes, I have started my internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory already and I am very behind on updates. However, this should be exciting because that means I am having a lot of fun, so I will have cool things to write about.

We began our journey on June 1st. My brother and my mom drove down to Oak Ridge with me. It was certainly a challenge to get everything stuffed into the car. When we were halfway there, I decided I had enough energy to keep driving so we ended up in Oak Ridge that night. The next day was spent moving my stuff and visiting with my aunt, my cousins, and her lovely children.

On Sunday, I attended a pre-orientation picnic at Clark Center Park for all the interns at the lab. It was a chance to meet people, ask questions, and sign up for activity groups. There was also free food (this is a continuation of my food tour from my last post). I had a pulled pork sandwich. After all, barbecue is a Tennessee specialty. I met some cool people I still talk to, but I realized quickly that we will not be seeing each other much due to being in different divisions and on completely different sides of the campus.

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Photo booth at the picnic…PC: Manda Boisvert

Monday, June 4th was my first day! I got to the lab early to avoid having to wait in a long line during the badging process. Each intern had to get processed through the visitor center to get a badge and an email log in. It did not take me long so I had some down time to mingle and eat lunch.  Orientation programming did not begin until 12pm so we actually waited for awhile. The program was very short compared to my NOAA orientation. We heard from some officials at the lab and from the representatives at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education about the lab in general and about our specific appointment details.

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Representing Juniata College
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Friends at orientation
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After the presentations were over, we got to meet our mentors, finally.  They lined up to use the microphone to call out our names. It felt like we were getting picked for the Hunger Games except you want your name to be called. My name was called and my journey really began.

The first few days were full of training and reading about the project I was going to be working within. There was online training, reading, and then in lab training to learn about specific lab hazards. There are many interns in my division this summer and everyone is very cool. I share my office with another intern and we have become great friends! It is a lot of fun meeting new people from all over the place.

My mentor is Avni Malhotra, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Environmental Sciences Division. For her doctoral research, she studied the ecosystem structure-function links in peatlands. She currently is studying fine root dynamics at ORNL. Although we have only been working with each other for a few weeks now, I feel very lucky to have her as my mentor. She brings advice from her personal life and from her many facets of educational experiences. I also have been enjoying getting to know the other researchers in our division and hearing about their careers. They might not realize it, but every story they tell helps guide my future.

The project I am working on is called “Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE)”. I encourage you to read more about it from the official website. The project is simulating climatic changes to determine the effects of increased temperature and carbon dioxide at varying increments in peatlands. These ecosystems are large carbon sinks. With increased atmospheric temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, there is a threat of positive feedback onto the atmosphere and climate. As you can imagine, there is quite a variety of researchers working on this project. These are the beginning years of this long term project and it is very exciting to be part of this full ecosystem analysis.

What is my role in this project? My mentor is focused on fine root dynamics in the ecosystems. Specifically, she is interested in the branching intensity of these roots. So that is what I will be working on this summer.  I am looking for differences between the different treatment plots and determining if branching correlates with any of the treatments. My first week has been spent reading a lot of literature that relates to this, because fine roots and branching is an area of science I have not spent a lot of time in. It has been engaging to learn something completely new and be able to have the curiosity and the resources to further the studies.

How am I going to do this? The lab has ingrowth soil core samples from each plot at the site which look like this (except a longer tube because they get cut):

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They fill these with peat and place them in the ground to collect the fine roots growing at a certain time period. They get cut to account for the depth in the ground. In the lab, we search through these soil samples for roots using forceps, jewelers glasses, and lamps. After you pick through the soil, the roots are then classified and ordered. The root samples then get scanned to become an image for analysis of length, diameter, tips, etc. The roots are later dried, ground, and sent off for nutrient testing to determine the amount of carbon in them.

At the end of the first week, I was able to spend a lot of time working with these cores. We call the process “root picking”.  It is tedious but the data is important for future studies. I will have updates about my progress but overall I will most likely wait until the end of my project when I have a poster and a paper to share for my final results. I am excited to see where this project takes me!

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Root Picking Views
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Jewelers glasses

As part of my internship appointment, there are required seminars and events to attend. During the first week, I learned about the publication database, Web of Science, and it has become my best friend. It was neat to see all of its different features, and I have definitely found it to be very useful.

I also had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call among researchers in SPRUCE. I loved being able to hear about all the different studies going on just on this one project. Since it is a whole ecosystem study, everything is pretty much covered!

Bring Your Child to Work Day was the first Friday of my internship so it was nice to see all the little kids running around.  Also, they had a fundraiser on campus for United Way and were selling ice cream sundaes!!  What a great end of the week.

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Rewind to the beginning of the week….

On Tuesday, it was time to say goodbye to my mom and my brother. My aunt and I sent them off at the Knoxville airport and tearfully watched them fly off. No worries, your favorite mother-daughter duo will be back together for a weekend in July.

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Posing in the airport
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See you later!

Weekend Fun

On Friday, I experienced Knoxville for the first time with a friend and he showed me around. We had yummy greek food at Yassin’s Falafel House and walked around Market Square. I was surprised how small the social area was but it was certainly cute and a nice area. I also saw the Sunsphere at World’s Fair Park.

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Tennessee Theater in Knoxville

On Saturday, I slept in. It was great and much needed. I then went with some friends to the Secret City Festival in Oak Ridge! The festival celebrates Oak Ridge’s rich history with music, vendors, and food. We met up with some other interns and now I have a much larger friend group than before.  For lunch, I had another barbecue sandwich. Then, some of us went to dinner afterward at a pizza parlor called The Tomato Head in Knoxville.

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Secret City Festival
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Sunday was spent getting ready for the week ahead. I visited with my aunt and my baby cousin. I wish I could remember more but honestly these days fly by. I spend a majority of my time during the week at the gym and/or the lake. Running at the lake is quite beautiful, and it’s nice to get moving after sitting all day in the lab or my office. I also have discovered the local farmers market and it’s really nice to get fresh produce.

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Melton Hill Lake

I am going to work on writing Week 2 updates ASAP!

I look forward to sharing more of my adventures with you.  It has been a lot of fun so far. I love what I am studying and I have really learned a lot about what I want to do with my future. I just have to find the time to relax and reflect on this journey. I am appreciative of everyone who has been so supportive so far.

See you next week!

P.S.  Here’s my cute little bio posted in the break room for the Climate Change Institute and surrounding offices.

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Bubble Tea, Pho, & Sharknado

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

What do these three things have in common?

Well, I spent the last week of May in Silver Spring, MD for the NOAA Hollings Scholarship orientation. I arrived on Monday the 28th to check into my hotel (they gave out warm cookies when you checked in). I met up with another scholarship recipient from Juniata for dinner and we ended up meeting a super cool group of people I can now call friends.

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Tuesday

I woke up early to meet everyone for breakfast at the hotel before we headed over to the NOAA Science Center. It was only a 15 minute walk through Silver Spring from the hotel. Once everyone was checked in, the program began. We first were welcomed by the Deputy Director for Higher Education, who was followed by RDML Tim Gallaudet, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. He discussed his journey and gave advice about how to make the most out of our experiences. He definitely made us more excited than we already were about being part of NOAA’s mission. The next portion of the morning was set aside for information about the scholarship.

We finished the last portion of the morning session by beginning our introduction to the line offices. First up was National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Dr. Cisco Werner presented and gave an overview of the diversity of work the Fisheries Service can do. The field opportunities are endless and this office is definitely on my list for next summer.

After the morning session, we took group photos and dispersed for lunch.  If you’re curious, we got Chipotle.

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After lunch, we continued our session. Next was the National Weather Service. Although I do not think I will work with them, I find their mission and work incredibly interesting. Dr. Leticia Williams, a Social Science Post-Doctoral Student, explained their mission to provide Impact-Based Decision Support Services. This is something I have always found interesting. The way you explain something to someone changes their perspective of it. In terms of weather, they mentioned needing to improve their forecast reports not to just give percentages, but also to provide specific information to those interested about how their day will be impacted.

National Ocean Service (NOS) was the next presenter and, by the end of the presentation, I was ready to sign up. A lot of my interests in coastal management and restoration fall under this office. They also provide a lot of field work. This speaker was also very personable. Like other presenters, he discussed how his career began, but he also included how he focuses on his family life in addition to his work life. This became a theme among many of the NOAA presenters, which was reassuring to hear as a young person who wants to start a family one day.

The last presenter of the day was the National Satellite and Information Service (NESDIS). We heard from Kelly Turner, the NESDIS Chief of Staff, and Alek Krautmann, a NESDIS Program Coordination Officer. Kelly discussed her career path, which originally did not include sciences. Alek also discussed his path and his experience as a Hollings scholar. NESDIS is the core of all information that the other offices analyze and utilize. They are not exactly on my radar (pun intended), but I will still consider their projects.

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That evening, we attended a Reception and Networking Session at the hotel. There was a pasta bar, mocktails, wings, turkey, fruit bar, and an amazing selection of desserts. Needless to say, we did not leave hungry.  

And to continue the food tour, I tried Bubble Tea for the first time!!!  It was delicious.

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Wednesday

The morning was the same. We met for breakfast and walked to the science center. We began with a presentation from the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR). Three representatives from varying areas of their office spoke. The same theme continued throughout each presentation and we learned about the diverse ways people can get involved at NOAA.  This office does a lot of different work and I think it is possible I will do a project with them. These speakers gave good advice, especially for interns.  Everything from “apply, apply, apply” to “be able to communicate science” was extensively covered.

The last presentation introduced me to a part of NOAA that I never even knew existed. The Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) includes the NOAA Corps. What the heck is that?! From the OMAO website, “The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps) is one of the nation’s seven uniformed services. NOAA Corps officers are an integral part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and serve with the special trust and confidence of the President.” I had no idea this existed. These are the people who do the work for the scientists to get data. I am not sure if I am going to pursue this, but it is an option!

We took a break for lunch at this point. My group went to Chick-fil-A.

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The afternoon consisted of a career fair with each of the line offices represented by a variety of people. It was an excellent opportunity to discuss my interests with each office and find out where would be the best place for me and who to contact about certain positions. The advice I received and the connections I was able to make will indefinitely help me when deciding what project I would like for next summer.

And that was the end of the day!

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We went to dinner that night and I tried Pho for the first time.  I also got a smoothie with bubbles.

After dinner, we walked around and finally decided to watch a movie.  After being entertained by American Ninja Warrior and a PBS documentary on Einstein, we chose to watch Sharknado for a good laugh.

The best part was how excited we were when the movie mentioned the National Weather Service…we are officially NOAA nerds.

Thursday

On this day we got to tour nearby NOAA facilities. I went to The NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Maryland.

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This is where scientists work on providing weather, water, and climate forecasts for the United States. It was very cool to hear from the scientists about their work and see the actual space where they work. There was A LOT of computers. Each person took time to explain their work. It was amazing.

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The tour of the facility included a Science on a Sphere presentation.

After lunch, scientists from the facility gave detailed presentations about their work. It was really cool and they were all very passionate.

My favorite speaker overall from the whole experience was the last one.  Dr. William M. Lapenta is the director of NOAA‘s National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP). He shared his career path and his personal life, just like everyone else, but what made him different was that he included his wife’s career in his story. She was also a high achieving scientist who started and continued a career with NASA. This meant a lot to me and, when asked further questions, he mentioned that each of them have had to make sacrifices for each other over the years. This is important to hear in an era where husbands and wives are both working. Promotions and traveling become taxing and difficult on families and relationships. He also talked about how one can be overworked. In this aspect, he leads by example for his employees. He only works 40 hours a week and spends the rest of his time with his family and friends. He wants everyone to come in and do the best work during those 40 hours, but no more. I loved hearing that because working overtime and being an “overachiever” all the time can be dangerous. I definitely struggle with that now and I am only in college.

Overall, I loved my tour! Check out my group in the bottom left picture:

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And that was the end!!!

But the fun did not stop. I was able to spend the evening with my awesome new friends in Washington D.C.

We ate a fancy dinner, saw the President leaving the White House, toured the memorials, and ran through a huge storm.

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I had SO much fun. Not only did I learn more about NOAA as an organization, but I learned more about my interests and what my career could look like. I also learned more about myself by meeting people with the same drive and interests as me. Each of my new friends have amazing career paths ahead of them and I cannot wait to see where this takes us.  Thanks for being awesome and never stop.

See you guys next year when we have completed our internships and are presenting our posters!!!

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Stay tuned to hear about my first week at ORNL!