This year I am in Canada studying sustainability at Dalhousie University. While my study abroad didn’t send me very “abroad”, I have been given an opportunity to learn about my country, climate change, and other environmental issues from a different perspective.
Sustainability practices are implemented not only all over campus but the city as well. Buying local is heavily encouraged with daily farmer’s markets, locally sourced restaurants, and Nova Scotia-born businesses. The walkability of the city means fewer cars and lower emissions. Mandated recycling and composting programs allow the city to divert two-thirds of its waste away from landfills. The city is a model for environmentally-friendly practices that I have learned a lot from.
Aside from my time in the classroom, I have been able to explore the sites of Nova Scotia. I have visited the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Citadel Hill National Historic Site, Peggy’s Cove, and other local treasures. The waterfront is always bustling with people taking in the views of the ocean and fishing off the pier. Point Pleasant Park is a haven for walking along the shore or jogging through the forest. There are always events going on and I haven’t been bored yet.
While Canada may not seem so different from “the states” (as they call it here), it has a completely unique culture. I’ve learned about the variances in our strategies involving the environment, how other places handle resource management, and how other countries perceive the United States. I have already broadened my education so much thus far and I am excited to continue to do so.
Last May, I had the unforgettable experience of studying abroad in Colombia for two weeks as a part of a course on Food Security and Sustainable Development. This program was run as a joint partnership between Purdue and two Colombian Universities, Universidad Technológica de Pereira and Universidad de Caldas, and what ultimately made me decide to choose this program was that students from all three schools participated in it together. It was a lot of fun getting to know the Colombian students, and although a language barrier did exist between us sometimes, it proved to be a really great opportunity to brush up on some of my very rusty Spanish skills and get to know more about Colombian culture from a more direct perspective. The first week of the course took place in the city of Pereira, the second week in the city of Manizales, and then a third week was spent back in the United States on Purdue’s campus. The curriculum of this course was focused around how we can find balance between supplying the needs of our ever-growing global population while ensuring the vitality of our planet’s natural resources and biodiversity. While in Colombia, we visited several agricultural operations, including a coffee plantation, a cacao farm, and a family farm used for subsidence, and then later we compared their productivity and their effects on the environment to large-scale monocultures commonly found in the United States. My favorite part of the trip was exploring Colombia’s beautiful natural landscapes and seeing some amazing wildlife. Colombia has the second highest level of biodiversity and the most species of birds out of any country on Earth. Both Pereira and Manizales are located in the Andes Mountains with an ecological region that intersects tropical rainforest and the mountain highlands, which gave us the opportunity to visit several incredible national parks such as Otún Quimbaya and Parque de Los Nevados. We also had a lot of fun sight-seeing in our host cities and their neighboring villages, relaxing in mountain hot springs, trying Colombian cuisine, and playing soccer!
This was hands-down the coolest trip I’ve ever gone on and I personally hope to study abroad again this summer through another program as well!
This past summer I worked for the Roger Tory Peterson Institute as a Project Wild
America Crew Leader. This took place in Jamestown, New York, the birthplace of Roger Tory Peterson, an American Naturalist. I was one of two crew leaders that were responsible for managing and leading six high school students through various research projects. Our goal was to continue Roger’s legacy of studying the flora and fauna all around us. The projects we worked on included bird banding, invasive species mapping and management, macroinvertebrate surveys, vegetation surveys, a wetland delineation, and water quality surveys. We spent everyday, all day, outside, which led to some pretty wicked tan lines. It was hands-on experience; from taking the data ourselves to recording our findings, we were responsible for all the steps. We also participated in many public outreach events, ranging from radio shows to a whole festival dedicated to Project Wild America. I have learned many different research techniques and made numerous professional connections, both of which have helped me in my academic
career. Being immersed in what you are studying is the best way to learn and truly understand what you are doing and that ideal was the epitome of this internship.
“Solutions to the Water Pollution on the Mississippi River.” This is the title of the 46-page document that I wrote for my internship this summer. Now, that may seem like a daunting task, and some of you probably stopped reading at the mention of a writing a huge paper, but it was the best internship I have had yet.
Every year, the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, located near St. Louis, MO, offers around 20 research-based ecological or human dimensions internships. This year, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the interns for this unique program. It begins with a one-week orientation in which students are introduced to different types of research. Then students spend 9 weeks in various areas of the Midwest working on research projects based on the Mississippi River. Their projects focus on anything from tracking birds at 3 in the morning, to dissolving fish in acid to measure their heavy metal concentrations, to creating educational videos about research to make it more understandable for the public. At the end of the 10 weeks everyone makes their way back to St. Louis to give an oral and poster presentation about their project. Every part of the internship offers a different learning experience and every part of the internship left me wanting to go straight into the workforce. If that was what work was like, then I was ready to jump right in.
As for my specific project, it was more product-oriented than most of the others. I was given the task of creating an Environmental Issues Forum (EIF) that could be delivered to students in a classroom setting. Normally, EIFs are meant for communities to come together to discuss an environmental issue and bring about action on the issue. However, we wanted students to be a part of the discussion and a part of the solution. After all, it’s their future that communities discuss. After I wrote the document and went through many drafts, I was able to present the forum multiple times to different groups of teachers and students. The last two weeks of my internship was a bit different, where I was able to conduct a waterschool camp for 9-13 year old students. I co-taught lessons and experiments about water. Every step of my internship challenged my writing and interpersonal skills, and every step was worth the work I put into it.
The classes and adventures I have gone on in Australia have been amazing and such a great learning experience. I have learned so much about myself and the world through this program. One of the best experiences I have had so far was a four day class field to a University of New South Wales (my university) owned lake. My class Ocean to Estuarine Ecosystems (a biology class) set up this four day field trip where we were each assigned a group project. We went on the lake each day, learned how to take samples, dissect fish, ethically kill fish, catch fish, drive boats, make invertebrate traps, use the YSI (a salinity probe), map the lake using GPS, and most importantly make new friends. Everything I learned and experienced during the field trip was something I could apply into the workforce later on and definitely put on my resume. The hands-on learning and the long work hours really helped me get a feel for a future career. I’ve never experienced something like this before and I loved it. The field trip took place over my mid semester break and even though the field trip was for school, I never once wished I was somewhere else instead. I cannot wait until I experience my next adventure!
I woke up to constant harsh “du du du” sound from nowhere on my way to class. I stopped walking, holding my breath and trying to guess where the sound was coming from. Then I located a cute squirrel hiding behind a tree trying to open a nut for breakfast. The little squirrel with “yummy face” made my day! He was so cute! So, I stopped to reflect on my day.
It’s a ten minute walk from my dorm (Hawkins) to Beering Hall, which is the Liberal Arts and Education Building. I am in my classroom on time for English Professional Writing (ENGL 421) at 9:30 AM. It was a typical lecture about designing a proposal for our projected group project, and the professor was very helpful and instructive on tips for writing a great proposal.
After a one minute walk to University Hall, I went to my Math class about differential equations (MA 303). Don’t be overwhelmed by taking this math course because it is NOT a required course in our study plan and you DON’T need to take it if you don’t want to. You can choose to take it as a core study course like me if you are concentrating in Emerging Environmental Challenges Concentration. I love the freedom in the NRES major to decide how much you want to learn in each area in order to best fit your goals.
Next I went to WALC for another self-designed core course, Environmental Engineering Sustainability, at 11:30 AM. WALC is a newly completed building next to the Purdue Tower. I love the sunshine with the tower, so I took a quick selfie with it. 😉 NRES is a great place to combine science and engineering courses together if you are not sure about which one you want to focus on and if you want to learn both at the same time. The Environmental Engineering Sustainability class (EEE 355) is an innovative course that aims to conduct group projects about sustainable topics for the whole semester. The professor is super nice and fun and gives us a lot of freedom in and out of the class. Basically, we are assigned to groups depending on our own strengths to conduct research on comparing sustainability in water, food, and energy between two similar cities. Our goal is to come up with a comprehensive plan to improve the future sustainable development in these two cities depending on the information we gather. We also coreate a video to show others what we learn from our project. The film can be any type, including if you want to wear weird self-designed costumes and act silly. 😉
I was done with my classes on that day at 12:30 PM. (YAY!) When I walked out of WALC, there was a funny guy with exciting music trying to dance all over campus! Happy FRIDAY! After a relaxing lunch with my friends, I went back to Lily Hall to conduct some research. Usually you can arrange a time for research that works best in your schedule. All in all, it was a pretty constructive afternoon.
I went back home to do my laundry in the basement of my building. Once I came back to my room, the sunset out of my window blew away all my tiredness! I am now ready for a fantastic weekend!
Just a normal day. 😛
My favorite class I have taken at Purdue is soil science. It is an interactive class that teaches you all about soils. There is an open lab component which is fun and helps you learn the material better. I loved this class so much that it helped me decide my concentration to be land resources. It is also why I decided to get a minor in soil science. My favorite parts about the class were the open lab because it allowed me to choose when I wanted to work on the lab and I also liked the field trips. We took three field trips throughout the semester that were super fun. I didn’t know there was so much to learn about soil until this class. Although soil science is a required class for all NRES students, you will love taking it and you will learn more than you can imagine.
“Research.” It’s that mystical word you’ve probably heard your parents, or your advisor, or your professors, or really anybody on campus say, along with “Purdue is a research college, you should get involved!” But what exactly does research entail, and how do you get involved?
Well, if you’re anything like me, getting involved in research sounded boring and tedious. I didn’t want to do it, and thought I wouldn’t, despite the protests of my parents. However, here I am, three years later, involved in three different research projects. If you ask me, that’s one too many and I don’t recommend three at once. Believe it or not, though, I enjoy all three projects I am on and have gained valuable skills through each.
The first project I became involved with started at the beginning of this year. I figured I should get involved in research even though I truly didn’t want to, but I didn’t know where to start. One Environmental Science Club meeting I was talking to fellow Ambassador Jacob and he mentioned that a professor by the name of Dr. Ma did environmental human dimensions research, which suited my interests more than field work since I want to study law. I had never had a class with Dr. Ma and had no idea who she was, but thought it was worth it to at least send her an email. So I got onto her website, read over the research she did, and sent her an email inquiring about any research opportunities she might have along with my resume. Two weeks later, I was working on a literature review studying the agronomic, economic, environmental, and social effects of improved seed technologies on countries worldwide. The best part? I can earn some extra money while improving my data extraction abilities.
Around the same time, my two friends and I were discussing what we wanted to do our Honors College thesis on. We decided it would be best if we all worked on one project together to complete the requirements, and so my second research project was born. We found an advisor, pitched our idea to study the reasons behind positive retention rates in the Honors College, and submitted our proposal to the Honors College Scholarly Project Committee. We will be creating and conducting surveys, facilitating interviews, and analyzing the qualitative and quantitative data we gather to discern the different reasons students complete the Honors College and which practices students find the most valuable.
Finally, this semester I received an email promoting a paid opportunity to become an undergraduate researcher for a game that Purdue was developing in conjunction with the University of Glasgow. The game is designed to educate members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change about the importance of climate tipping points. Even though I was already involved in two research projects, one wasn’t taking up much of my time and I knew this was an opportunity too good to pass up. I applied, not expecting much out of the experience except interview practice, but a couple weeks later, I received an email asking if I was still interested in the position. And so enters my third research project. I help with the writing portions of the game, such as country profiles for the game members and scenarios for the game. UN member nations will play the game in April. Each country will be assigned a country not their own, and have to collaborate and make decisions about how to allocate and use their resources. They will input their decisions, and the game will advance five years into the future every round so that they can see the impacts of the actions they took.
As you can see, there are many different ways to become involved in research, from applying to opportunities you hear about, to starting your own project, to straight up emailing professors you don’t know to inquire about positions. Either way you go about it, there is always research available in a subject that interests you, you just have to look for it and be patient. Each experience comes with their own unique learning opportunities and benefits, whether it’s earning some extra cash, being able conduct your own project the way you want to, or earning credit hours. As someone who was skeptical about research my first two years here at Purdue, I have become an advocate for getting involved in undergraduate research, and I recommend that everybody does so.