Biology and Environmental Studies Double Major
Jessica Robinson '16 is interning in Yosemite National Park with the
Research Experience for Undergraduates, sponsored by the University of
California Merced and the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. This program, funded by the National Science Foundation, allows eight student researchers to collaborate with a mentor on a specific research project. Jessica is working with landscape ecologist Bill Kuhn in three Giant Sequoia groves to find the impacts of prescribed burning on seedling growth.
Describe your day-to-day experiences so far.
The first week was spent getting acquainted with the park and learning about different aspects of the park. Every day we had speakers from throughout the park come and discuss their research and give us helpful hints on how to safely work in Yosemite. The topics of these discussions included research ethics, flora and fauna identification within the park, bird watching, wilderness survival skills, anthropogenic and geographical history of Yosemite, and current research involving the human impact on wilderness and ways to mitigate that. We also went camping in the Tuolumne Meadows campgrounds and watched a folk band play outside of a high-class, though obscure, restaurant called Whoa Nelly Deli.
The second week was more focused on individual research. Half of my week is spent in the office, and the other half is in the field. Last week I worked with my mentor on surveying the giant sequoias in the Merced grove. This involved using surveying equipment to virtually map the juvenile and young seedling trees in the grove to modify the current database.
How did you learn about this opportunity?
Professor Stuart Allison (biology), my advisor, forwarded me an e-mail about this specific Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Prior to that, I had been looking into internships that I would be interested in applying to and had discussed this with my friend [fellow student] Danika Hill. She is the one who recommended that I look into the REU programs. Professor Peter Schwartzman (environmental studies) recommended that I apply to as many internships as I possibly, which was incredibly helpful advice. If I hadn't applied to as many internships as I had, I probably wouldn't have had this opportunity. Professor Mary Crawford (chemistry) was always encouraging me to never give up and I am so grateful for her support.
I've learned that just by talking to people, friends and professors alike, hundreds of opportunities can unveil themselves.
Can you cite an example of how your in-classroom experiences at Knox have benefited you in the internship?
Due the fact that most of my work is centered around plant biology, my Plants and Society class and my introductory biology classes have been incredibly helpful when it comes to understanding the biological necessities of plants and how that relates to plant vitality. Once a basic understanding has been built, it is easier to relate it to what I've been reading in scientific journals for my research.
The intimate class sizes that Knox offers has allowed me to be unafraid of asking questions when I don't fully understand something. I've carried this with me to my internship, and it has helped me tremendously when it comes to truly understanding my research and the larger part it plays in the conservation of the Sequoia groves.
What inspired you to pursue the internship?
I've learned that the best way I learn is through experience. I can take as many classes as I want, but If I never get out in the field and apply what I learn, it will never stick with me. When I found out about this internship, the idea of being able to live in a national park and really immerse myself in an environment that is prized for its uniqueness biologically and geographically was incredibly appealing. Last summer I was given the opportunity to work as member of the Natural Resource Crew for Shawnee National Forest in Illinois and it was there that I learned of the importance of learning through experiential learning. As a result I made it a personal goal to use my summers for educational purposes, and I hope that each of my future summers are just as productive as this one and the one before.