A new leaf
Interns spend summer with the Nature Conservancy
Kids across the country are headed back to school. For some, the summer excursion started and ended on the couch. But for four young women, the voyage back to the classroom began with a flight from Nevada to Rhode Island.
The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program was started in 1995 to connect students with conservation internships. As of this year, high schools in 11 states participate in the program—sending small groups of students to work paid internships with Nature Conservancy field offices in 28 states. 2016 was the third year that students had internships at the River Fork Ranch near Carson City, an 800-acre preserve owned and operated by the Conservancy as a part of its Carson River Project.
“I think one of the challenges we face is that today’s youth are probably growing up more disconnected from nature than previous generations,” said Duane Petite, director the Carson River Project. “And it’s our belief that if young people are not exposed to nature early in life, then they’re going to be less likely to see themselves as stewards of the planet and of the natural world as they reach voting age.”
Petite helps coordinate the internships and acts as a supervisor for the conservation projects the students undertake. He explained that the Conservancy aims to have students work on several different projects during their month-long internships. This year’s projects included the removal of invasive weeds and the tracking of Western pond turtles using radio telemetry.
“They also worked with scientists from Mongolia and France and all over the United States on a water quality research project that’s occurring in several rivers, both in the United States and in Mongolia, but the Carson River is one of those sites,” Petite said.
But the LEAF program isn’t limited to field work. The students spend time visiting universities to learn about conservation career paths ranging from environmental engineering to environmental law. This year, they visited the University of California’s Davis and Berkeley campuses and the University of Nevada, Reno.
The program also aims to teach practical life skills. The students were given a budget, which—with the help of a mentor who was with them 24/7—they had to carefully manage in order to plan things like meals and recreational activities on their days off.
The interns who worked with the Nature Conservancy in Nevada this summer are Amanda Marroquen, Chelsea Lizardo, Carolina Franco and Jessica McMaugh. Before heading back to Rhode Island, they took time to write some thoughts on the highlights and challenges of their internships. After a month with the Nature Conservancy, they all reported that they’re still at least considering a career in conservation.
“I feel as though I would definitely continue pursuing my interest in conservation work,” wrote McMaugh, who finished her senior year shortly before coming to Nevada. “But this experience has taught me what jobs I could potentially have in this type of work that nobody really thinks about, such as environmental lawyer.”