Reflections on my month as an IonE high school intern
All I knew was that the Institute on the Environment was an environmental option on my school’s list of internship options; I had no idea I was going to learn so much. I’m a recent graduate from St. Paul Academy and Summit School. At my high school seniors are given the amazing opportunity to intern for the last month of their senior year instead of taking regular high school classes. Some would say it’s a time for seniors to experience the real world before they enter into more years of education the coming fall.
IonE, such a poetic abbreviation. I scheduled a meeting with the Director of IonE, Jessica Hellmann. On a nice Saturday morning in a coffee shop, she walks in with her daughter who also goes to St. Paul Academy and whom I had coincidentally met a week in advance while helping with a lower school project. We sat in the coffee shop and got right to the logistics — I was in! I showed my curiosity to learn and work with IonE, and there we were already talking about what I could do and contribute to the Institute. Coming out of that meeting I was more excited to start interning in the spring.
Although I’ve only been here four weeks, I’ve learned so much about the Institute, how much work is put into things, the relationship between the public and scientists, different research, and the abundance of jobs available all with the same goal: to help the environment. Despite little knowledge compared to what the members of the IonE know about such issues, I have attended meetings, presentations, and book club discussions and interviewed fellows, all while still learning what IonE does.
What I’ve concluded is that IonE is a unique institution within the University of Minnesota that works to protect and improve the wellbeing of the environment through school, local, state, national and global connections. The Institute is a program providing amazing opportunities to the undergraduates through many specific opportunities such as the sustainability studies minor, the undergraduate leaders program and an example like me. They want young students involved and eager to learn about IonE and even ask for our insights. There’s no official title for my role, I am simply interning at IonE and constantly have had tons of interesting tasks and jobs to do.
I’ve interviewed fellows such as John Berini where I learned about the effects climate change has on plants and how that might affect moose in Northeastern Minnesota. I’ve gotten to see some research equipment and butterflies and learn about climate adaptation through discussion with Jessica Hellmann. The list goes on — so many people at the Institute have taken chunks out of their day to tell me about their line of work and simply share their thoughts on the ways to protect our earth. I can positively say IonE is a welcoming environment that encourages student involvement among all ages.
One sunny day I was given the opportunity to shadow a grade school student field trip that was a preview of an upcoming summer camp called Water Journey. The summer camp immerses students in nature and the sciences using art. It was great seeing that IonE provides opportunities not only for college students but also for young kids in elementary school. They walked all around the Sarita Wetlands and took samples of the water. This is just one example I experienced that shows the expansive reach of IonE. It was hard for me to gauge exactly what they do because what they do is just so much. The broad variety of research and openness to new ideas are very unique characteristics for an Institute such as the IonE and is something I’ve noticed the staff seem to cherish.
All in all what I’ve learned with my short time at IonE is that the atmosphere is open and the staff are eager to hear new ideas and offer new opportunities. IonE reaches out to all ages to get involved through education and fellowships. Before I came to IonE, I didn’t know the number of jobs that are part of my interests. In reality, the experience made me realize that really all job skills are wanted and needed to combat climate change.
Because of my exposure to a wide range of careers focused on saving the environment, I have a better understanding of what a future job might look like for me. Thank you IonE for taking me in, teaching me, listening to me and exposing me to a group of people all fighting for one thing, Earth.
Photo credits: Avonna Starck and Kate Flick