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UW Oshkosh environmental studies major Juliana Mahler (right) is spending her summer working as an intern at Mequon Nature Center.

Three University of Wisconsin Oshkosh environmental studies students are making the most of their summer—combining internship learning with their love of the outdoors.

Kyle Ayers, Emma Laatsch and Juliana Mahler are working to preserve and promote natural environments in Wisconsin and beyond.

For Laatsch, the preparation included knowing bear, moose and poisonous/non-poisonous plants as well as CPR and first aid.

A senior environmental studies and sociology student from Menominee, Michigan, Laatsch secured a summer internship in Homer, Alaska, where she works as a day camp educator intern at the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies. Her responsibilities include leading children ages 5-11 Monday through Thursday, to explore the environment in Homer. There is planning of a weekly theme that correlates with the environment along with field trips and activities that educate and entertain the kids whom she calls “young environmentalists.”

Emma Laatsch (right) at the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies in Homer, Alaska.

The center offers programs for students, families and tourists that focus on ecology and stewardship of Kachemak Bay. Education and guided tours reach more than 12,000 annually.

“I can say with my whole heart, this has been the coolest thing that has ever happened to me,” Laatsch said several weeks after starting her internship. She said she is excited to use the knowledge she gained this summer and apply it to learning more about the plants and animals in Wisconsin—she wants to become an expert educator.

“I have learned to appreciate the simplicity of life and my surroundings of nature and can see myself applying to work here next summer—not as an intern, but an educator,” she said.

Important role

Mahler, a senior from Germantown majoring in environmental studies, has been working at the Mequon Nature Preserve—a nonprofit nature center located north of Milwaukee in Ozaukee County.

The preserve was established in 2002, with the intent of transforming 510 acres of agricultural fields back into their natural habitats. There are a number of trails and a 40-foot observation tower to observe the beauty.

One of Mahler’s main responsibilities involves land restoration projects. She’s been asked to assist with development of wetland, prairie and forest habitats, planting trees and shrubs, controlling invasive species, seeding and other related tasks.

“Interns also play a large role in research and monitoring on the preserve to ensure restoration efforts are running smoothly,” she said, adding that much focus is on water—measuring water levels and testing for different chemicals and elements. Interns also track animal population densities and locations.

Mahler puts her communication skills to work as she assists with educational talks, field trips, volunteer days and other events. She said she was familiar with the preserve and had reached out to its staff in January, two months before the hiring process began.

“…I can confidentially say it has been one of the most fulfilling experiences ever, and I hope others will also get the chance to experience it,” she said in an email to UWO Career Services staff.

Putting skills to work

Ayers is a natural resource management intern at Wild Rivers Conservancy that is part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway run by the National Park Service.

The senior from Oshkosh who studies environmental studies and geography, is based at Osceola, Wisconsin, on the border with Minnesota, separated by the St. Croix River.

The majority of his work is spent on invasive and non-invasive plant control. Many of the sites are accessed by vehicle or ATV, but some are reached by boat or kayak.

Kyle Ayers (left), a UWO junior studying environmental studies and geography, found his internship through a posting on Handshake.

Other tasks Ayers performs as an intern are tree planting, seeding with local ecotype seed and installation of erosion control material. He also is involved in monitoring water quality, aquatic invertebrates, zebra mussels and bat acoustic surveys as well as assisting with species research.

“I believe I got this internship because of my prior knowledge of invasive plants, along with control methods,” Ayers said. “I also believe my experience with geographic information systems, good general computer knowledge, a past internship and major of environmental science secured my position.”

Ayers said anyone planning to apply to an internship should research the position and think about any prior experience or knowledge or professional connections that would make them stand out among applicants. Volunteer work or job shadowing can result in a reference and getting one’s name recognized in the field.

Super summer

Christina Lambie, who oversees internships through UWO Career and Professional Development, said all three students are gaining credit for their experiences through the Environmental Studies 300 Internship course.

Students set goals at the beginning of the term and reflect on the experience by submitting journals.

Lambie said reading about their interactions, skill development and seeing them discover their career values is extremely gratifying.

“Internship gives them the opportunity to gain exposure to the occupations available to them and amazing opportunities to network with people working in the field,” Lambie said. “Having a first-hand experience with developing policy, mapping trails and rivers, or teaching children about the ecology of their local habitat can be life changing.”

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