August 21, 2009

Students put classroom knowledge to work in the field

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Adam Oller came home to Southern Illinois University Carbondale from South Africa determined to use the career skills he learned there as a “focus point for a better life.”

Oller, a senior from Pana majoring in geography and environmental resources, spent part of his summer working with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and Nature Conservation Trust in Bela Bela, South Africa. His assignment took him to the Jubatus Cheetah Reserve and Ukilima Farms, both part of the Nature Conservation Trust. He noted in a summary of his experiences that he learned career and management skills, and also how a career in geography will help him to achieve his personal goals of helping to create a better environment.

“The summer internship of 2009 for NCT is everything I expected it to be and more,” he wrote. “I cannot wait until I get to apply this unique and valuable knowledge and experience in the near future.”

Oller explained that at both the reserve and the farm, he researched the interplay between environmental change and species adaptation, specifically how different farming techniques affect the environment and how the environmental changes affect cheetahs. His tasks included work in mapping, managing equipment use for decreased environmental impact, initial research for irrigation placement on the farm, and other, smaller projects.

“Working in South Africa this summer opened my eyes that a geographer with the right tools can work anywhere,” he wrote.

Oller was one of several geography and environmental resources students to hold a summer internship in his chosen career field. Leslie A. Duram, professor and department chair, said the department is especially strong in water and land use, GIS, and environmental management. She began organizing internships for students more than 10 years ago, and she keeps doing it because the experience benefits the students.

“Our students get a ‘real world’ view of a natural resource agency,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity to put all their classroom information to use in an actual employment setting. I really enjoy seeing the variety of sites and the excellence of our student interns. And I am so proud to place our top students out there to represent SIUC in such a positive way.”

Other students were busy carrying on work begun by other interns in previous years. Eric Wilke, from Iowa City, Iowa, remained in Carbondale, where he worked with the City of Carbondale in the Planning Services Division. He was part of a sidewalk analysis team that included work done by a previous geography and environmental resources intern. His supervisor told Duram that work from both students will be part of the city’s new Comprehensive Plan, currently being written.

Nick Longbucco, currently of Carbondale, assisted with clearing the 12-mile Red Cedar Trail at Giant City State Park, including photo-documenting fallen trees on the trail. He also worked on a new map of the Stone Fort Trail. Melissa Brandt, from Mundelein, taught others about recycling as part of her internship with Keep Carbondale Beautiful. Katie Smith, from Tinley Park, worked planting wetlands with V3 Companies of Illinois. And Fred Wesseln, from Pinckneyville, used his GIS training in his internship with the Johnson County Supervisor of Assessment office.

Other student interns included:

Jon Dyer, Edwardsville, Campus Sustainability. Dyer had several projects with Campus Sustainability, including working with the organic gardens established this summer on campus.

Matthew McIndoo, Oakbrook Terrace, Angelic Organics. Angelic Organics is a 155-acre organic farm in Caledonia and a learning center in Chicago. The movie “The Real Dirt on Farmer John,” features the Angelic Organics farm.

Benjamin Newton, currently of Carbondale, a doctoral student specializing in agribusiness economics, worked on a biodiversity project.

Leah May, Peoria, SIU LOGIC. May spearheaded the campaign to establish an organic farm on campus that will contribute vegetables and other produce for Residence Hall Dining.

Luke Orr, Chicago, Collegiate Peaks Wilderness in Colorado. Orr worked on trails in the Mount Yale area. The Yale peak, as well as several others in the immediate vicinity, is popular destinations and trails there see heavy use.