Now Accepting Applications for 2020 Water Resources Internship

WR!HeaderHave an interest in the environment, conservation, and agriculture, particularly water and soil quality?  We are seeking undergraduate student interns for summer 2020 who are self-motivated, detail-oriented, strong communicators, enthusiastic, and have a sense of fun!

Interns’ time will be split between research and outreach, all centered around environmental issues and challenges in Iowa.   Summer interns will have the opportunity to:

The program is based on campus at Iowa State University and will involve travel in university vehicles to research sites and various outreach events around the state, which includes some scheduled night and weekend events.  This is a paid internship, with students working up to 40 hours/week.  The internship program begins Wednesday, May 13 and runs through Saturday, August 1, 2020.

The Iowa State University water resources internship program serves as an outstanding springboard for careers in agriculture, engineering, the environment, and/or further studies.

From a relatively small beginning as student research assistantships in 2007 with a single trailer-mounted rainfall simulator, to the addition of a second and the launch of the Conservation Station fleet in 2010, interns were integral to the program. Today there are three Conservation Stations in regular use, and the teams of interns go out with them for nearly every visit.

Over the years 50+ individuals have served as water resources interns and have gone on to such careers as project engineer, watershed coordinator, environmental educator, field research specialist, and USDA-FSA program technician, while others have pursued graduate school opportunities.

Learn more about past internship experiences in this Wallaces Farmer article.

Job Skills and Requirements:

  • Currently enrolled undergraduate student (open to all majors)
  • Demonstrated interest and/or background in environmental science, natural resources, conservation, soil and water quality, agriculture, and/or education
  • Evidence of strong communication skills
  • Ability to learn new tasks quickly
  • Teamwork skills
  • Self-motivated
  • Detail-oriented
  • Time management skills

Additional internship requirements include:

  • Participation in 4-week spring training course for internship (one night per week, beginning week of March 23)
  • Valid US driver’s license
  • Background check with ISU Risk Management for working with youth

How to Apply:

Required application materials include:

  • PDF Resume (Be sure to include your GPA, major, and previous work experience)
  • PDF Cover Letter (Tell us what interests you about this internship and why you’d be a great fit!)

Internship application deadline is 5:00pm on Friday, January 31, 2020.   Please submit your complete application package to Liz Juchems via email – ejuchems@iastate.edu.  We will conduct interviews with qualified students in early February.

Spreading the word to help cover crops take off

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A little rain right before the field day was scheduled to start didn’t scare away a large group of attendees who wanted to learn more about cover crops. Iowa Learning Farms partnered with Indian Creek Soil Health Partnership, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and Linn County to deliver this cover crop focused field day on August 14th.

After dinner it was time to check out a plane used to aerially seed cover crops, hear cover crop tips from Rebecca Vittetoe, Iowa State University Extension Field Agronomist, see the Iowa Learning Farms rainfall simulator in action and pick the brain of farmer Jason Russell, who is making cover crops work on his farm.

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Rebecca Vittetoe discusses cover crops

Vittetoe used the Iowa Learning Farms rainfall simulator to show how cover crops (and no-till) can help reduce surface runoff, prevent soil erosion and encourage more infiltration. She went on to talk about some cover crop basics and share tips for being successful when you’re first starting out using cover crops. She emphasized that it’s important to have a plan when you’re adding cover crops to your operation – you need to think how they are going to fit into your operation and what adjustments you may need to make. The tips she shared were:

  1. Start small
  2. Look for easy entry points (such as planting cover crops after you harvest corn silage or seed corn, or on prevent plant acres)
  3. Be flexible
  4. Have a Plan A, but also be sure to have a Plan B and Plan C

One of the important parts of the cover crop planning process that Vittetoe discussed was deciding how you are going to plant your cover crops. Attendees of the field day got to get up close and personal with a plane used to aerially plant cover crops and hear from pilot John Thompson of Thompson Aero. Thompson was able to answer questions about the technical aspects of aerially applying cover crops and explain the way he seeds cover crops using his plane.

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John Thompson with a plane he uses to aerially seed cover crops

The evening wrapped up with the group hearing about Linn County farmer Jason Russell’s personal experiences using cover crops. Russell had some great insight to share since he’s been successfully using cover crops for years. Russell reiterated Vittetoe’s advice to start small. He talked about how he uses a mix of cereal rye and wheat for his cover crops, that since starting to use cover crops he only has to apply nitrogen fertilizer once at the beginning of the season and his termination techniques.

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Jason Russell talks about incorporating cover crops into his farming operation

If you want to learn more about incorporating cover crops into your farming operation, join us at a field day near you!

Hilary Pierce

 

First Experience at My Very Own County Fair

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Joshua Harms, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2018-19.


On Friday July 26th I was scheduled to go to the Hamilton County Fair in Webster City with the Conservation Station trailer. Now this fair happens to be my hometown county fair, but the thing is, I have never been to it before. In my time with Water Rocks!, I have worked at a lot of different small town fairs, so I was curious to see how the Hamilton Co. Fair compared, and what it had to offer.

Going to county fairs around Iowa is a cultural experience!  Some of the fairs are pretty small in size, but they’re filled with a lot of pride around the 4-H and FFA exhibits and the livestock, like the Chickasaw Co. Fair. This year I also attended some medium sized fairs, like the Johnson Co. Fair in Iowa City. I originally believed this one would be huge considering the location, but it was still highly focused on livestock with a few other trailers and activities. It did also offer some different food options, including a homemade ice cream stand which really caught my eye.

And of course there have also been a few large fairs that I have attended as well, such as the Great Jones Co. Fair and the Mississippi Valley Fair. Both of these fairs offer lots of different things. Jones Co. offers dirt bike races, fair rides, and concerts. This year they had TobyMac perform along with some other relatively popular artists. And as for the Mississippi Valley Fair, they had an entire building dedicated to kids activities including interesting speakers and a petting zoo. They also had plenty of rides and food stands that span probably close to a half of a mile. Plus they bring in big name artists such as Dan + Shay and Nickelback, just to name a couple.


Arriving at the Hamilton Co. Fairgrounds, what first came to my attention is that it is a relatively small fair, which I expected, but they had a midway and a really nice sized stage for the artists that would be playing the fair. This was quite surprising to me. I did not expect it to have all the different things that it had. There were quite a few livestock buildings, as most fairs have. Another thing that surprised me was the many different food vendors. There were the usual ones like corn dogs, funnel cakes, and lemonade, plus they also had a few that I would say are less common such as smoked barbeque, tacos, and a stand completely dedicated to chicken that went by the name of Chicken City. You know I’m all about the fair food!

Photos from http://www.hamcoexpo.com/fair/photos/ 

Now as for my overall experience at the Hamilton Co. Fair, it was good. One thing that was especially unique was that myself and my coworkers got to teach a 4-H STEM camp that was happening at the fair. We taught students from 3rd to 5th grade all about the Fabulous World of Wetlands!

 

Then after the camp, we were on site for 3 more hours, talking to other fair goers at our Conservation Station trailer and encouraging them to check out our hands-on interactive activities.  While the fair was on the smaller end of those we visit, all the conversations we had with people were great, as they were very interested in what we were trying to teach. Most of the people that we saw were really interested in the Enviroscape (our “Watershed Game”). Even though it was my hometown fair, I did not end up talking to anyone that I knew from high school or my local community.

County fairs seem to be a summer staple here in Iowa. I can now proudly say, at 19, that I’ve finally been to my own local county fair!  Next summer I will have to go back on my own time to experience everything else that the Hamilton Co. Fair has to offer!


Joshua Harms

 

A Time to Celebrate; A Time to Look Ahead

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Matt Helmers | Iowa Nutrient Center Director and Professor of Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering

Learning Farms 15 year celebration (8)This year the Iowa Learning Farms turned 15 and one of the highlights was a get together with farmer partners, current and former steering committee members, and others that have contributed greatly to the Iowa Learning Farms. It was a wonderful evening of reminiscing of things that have been done over the last 15 years. In addition, we had a video on loop at the event that show photographs from each of the years.

A couple things stuck with me after the evening—other than I seemed to have aged more than most. First of all, the Iowa Learning Farms is all about people and connection. As I was watching pictures of the various activities and events, it reminded me of many great moments and conversations whether at an event or in travel to and from the event. These helped shape what has been done over the past 15 years and help the team get better at inspiring a Culture of Conservation. We still have much work to do but the ability to work together, listen to others and constantly look for ways to do it better are essential.

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One of my fondest memories related to this is the development of the Conservation Station fleet. Mark Licht suggested we get a rainfall simulator trailer after seeing one in Illinois. There was hesitation by many on whether we wanted a trailer that we would have to haul around to country fairs and other events. Our Steering Committee was worried about who would staff it. Well, that didn’t stop us and the Conservation System Rainfall Simulator was born. When we realized by listening to attendees at events that maybe there were some things about the original trailer (other than its name) that we could improve, we built a better rainfall simulator and expanded trailer, i.e., the Conservation Station.

Today, we have three trailers in the fleet with perhaps a fourth someday dedicated to soil. Along the way, each one has been unique in its own way and the team has continued to listen to our audiences and to work together to improve them. These trailers have now been to all counties in the state, every county fair (some multiple times), and hundreds of community events spreading the Culture of Conservation.

As much as reflecting on the past is important, I couldn’t help but think to the future of Iowa Learning Farms and what it might bring. The strength of ILF has been in its ability to respond to change and grow. When we first started, the program was focused on residue management, which is still important today. A few years later, we added a focus on water quality and cover crops.  As a result, we have seen a dramatic growth in interest around cover crops and the development of new technologies like bioreactors and saturated buffers.

I think these practices and topics will continue to be important as part of the educational program but what new ways will be utilized or what new research information becomes available to help with increasing interest and adoption of these practices and other practices? Are there new practices or concepts that are just seeds or interest right now but will become key to building the Culture of Conservation tomorrow? I am excited to see what those might be and then seeing how the Iowa Learning Farms team takes this information and develops educational material and programming to highlight these new concepts.

The Iowa Learning Farms has been a great learning experience. We have all changed over the last 15 years but a constant with ILF is that the program has continued to engaged partners throughout the state, has continued to listen to Iowans both rural and urban, has continued to look for better ways to spread the message, and has and will continue to educate on new conservation practices.

Here is to the next 15 years!

Matt Helmers

 

An Experience in Learning

When asked to describe my time as an intern with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms, the first thing that comes to mind is that it’s been a learning experience.  I’ve learned a lot about myself and my specific interests within environmental sustainability and natural resource conservation.  But with a bit more thought, I think it’s more appropriate to call it an experience in learning.

Everybody has different preferences for learning new things.  There’s visual learners and auditory learners, those who learn by observing and those who learn by doing.  

One of my favorite things about Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms is that these organizations cater to a variety of different learning preferences.  The Water Rocks! music videos help to spread the message of conservation to young audiences by providing fun and catchy sing-along opportunities that kids can enjoy at any hour of the day.  The classroom visits and assemblies provide a unique opportunity for students to learn by watching and listening to our educational materials, and then applying their newfound knowledge through trivia questions and team games.

The team’s Conservation Station Fleet is able to reach both urban and rural audiences with our three trailers, which feature examples of ways that any audience member could improve water quality.  With our rainfall simulators, we can show the impacts of various tillage practices on water drainage and quality.  Our on-the-edge trailer shows how two of the newest edge-of-field practices work (bioreactors and saturated buffers).  Lastly, our Enviroscape and poo toss games help us to show kids of all ages what they can do to improve the quality of their neighborhoods and watersheds.  

The past few weeks with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms have helped me to see that the best way for me to learn is by teaching others.  But that task can’t be done alone – it requires a team of passionate individuals to work together in order to spread our message across the state of Iowa.

Working with a cohort of seven other interns (in addition to all of the full-time staff members) has been a rewarding and interesting experience.  From watching a saturated buffer installation in eastern Iowa to digging a fellow intern out of a mucky mess, I can confidently say that no two days on the job have been the same!

And with each new day, I learn new things about myself, my teammates, and what we can do to improve the quality of the world we live in.  Above all, I’ve learned that it takes a strong team to be able to go out and teach the public about our initiatives.  I’m thankful for all that I’ve learned so far this summer and am excited to continue to add more knowledge as I approach the last month of this internship!

Becca Wiarda is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Wiarda grew up near Ackley and is a senior in Agricultural Business and Finance with minors in sustainability and agronomy.

Conservation Stations Crisscross Iowa to Deliver Conservation Messages

If you’ve been to an Iowa county fair or attended an Iowa State University (ISU) extension field day covering water quality, conservation, cover crops, edge of field practices or a range of other topics, there’s a good chance you’ve seen or even visited a Conservation Station operated by Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms. Last summer we hit the milestone of attending all 100 county fairs in Iowa – (yes 100, Pottawattamie County holds two.) The trailers also make appearances at community events, farmer’s markets and other settings.

The Conservation Stations are traveling resource centers and classrooms, staffed by ILF and Water Rocks! team members and interns, providing water quality and conservation education and outreach activities built on a foundation of science, research and best practices. These events also provide great learning opportunities for the team to sharpen trailer pulling and backing skills.

Rain, Rain, Don’t Wash our Soil Away
The idea for the first Conservation Station was germinated in the early years of Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) – which is celebrating 15 years in 2019. The precursor was a trailer equipped with a simple rainfall simulator for demonstrating soil erosion.

It was a good start, but frankly, it was a limited demonstration and the team quickly realized that they needed a more sophisticated rainfall simulator. In addition, ILF saw the potential to expand its impact by providing a broad canvas for education through visual, interactive and multimedia displays.

“We were awarded funding to purchase and develop a larger trailer and knew how to make a better rainfall simulator,” said Jacqueline Comito, executive director of Water Rocks! and ILF program director. “We just didn’t know how to realize our vision of a traveling and flexible unit. Ann Staudt joined the team to help us, and with her fresh ideas and creativity, the Conservation Station was born.”

The trailer, dubbed the Big Conservation Station, allowed space for an improved rainfall simulator as well as a walk-through learning lab. To facilitate use in different environments such as field days, outdoor classrooms and county fairs, the trailer accommodates interchangeable displays. Inside the learning lab, visual and multimedia presentations are designed to engage audiences in conversations and to elicit questions about conservation practices.

The learning lab was updated in 2018 to incorporate mixed-media artwork and enhanced messaging with the purpose of eliciting visitors’ hopes for Iowa.

ILF faculty adviser Matthew Helmers developed the new rainfall simulator which more accurately models both surface runoff and subsurface flow or drainage in tiled environments and uses soil blocks extracted from field environments to best parallel actual soil conditions in Iowa fields.

“The complexity of the new rainfall simulator was a challenge, but it also enabled us to tell a much more realistic story that farmers in Iowa could relate to,” noted Staudt.

A smaller trailer referred to as Conservation Station 3 was built specifically for outdoor classrooms and other youth activities. Along with a rainfall simulator, it is also equipped with the space to carry enough tables and chairs for students as well as a full complement of displays and activity resources.

Edge of Field Practice Demonstrations Expand Education Opportunities
In 2018, the original rainfall simulator trailer (which we called the Lil’ CS) was redesigned to become the Conservation Station on the Edge, addressing best practices for nutrient mitigation at the edge of tile-drained fields. Equipped with working saturated buffer and bioreactor models, this trailer takes the story of nutrient reduction to a deeper level. The demonstration stations allow the audience to see what happens within structures –that when implemented in a field are completely underground and out of sight.

Each Conservation Station includes interactive demonstrations that appeal to all backgrounds, ages and walks of life. Games such as the Poo Toss tend to appeal to youngsters but provide tangible lessons about waste runoff that pertains to everyone –whether they live on a farm or in a city. The Watershed Game is another highly visual interactive game that helps make the concepts of a watershed and how pollution moves with water easy to grasp.

“The Conservation Stations are filling a tremendous need by providing easy-to-understand information about water quality, conservation, agricultural best practices, and other topics of importance to all Iowans,” concluded Staudt. “We intend to continue to share this knowledge as frequently and in as many venues as we can.”

Find out where to see a Conservation Station near you
The Conservation Stations are used April through October. Check out the Water Rocks! website to request a visit (requests for summer events are being accepted now!).  In most circumstances, a Conservation Station can join an event at no cost, due to the generous funding received from our partners.

Conservation Stations Crisscross Iowa to Deliver Conservation Messages

ILFHeader(15-year)

If you’ve been to an Iowa county fair or attended a field day covering water quality, conservation, cover crops, edge of field practices or a range of other topics, there’s a good chance you’ve seen or even visited a Conservation Station operated by Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms. Last summer we hit the milestone of attending all 100 county fairs in Iowa – (yes 100, Pottawattamie County holds two.) They also make appearances at community events, farmer’s markets and other settings.

The Conservation Stations are traveling resource centers and classrooms, staffed by the ILF and Water Rocks! team members and interns, providing water quality and conservation outreach activities built on a foundation of science, research and best practices.

Rain, Rain, Don’t Wash our Soil Away

The idea for the first Conservation Station was germinated in the early years of ILF – which is celebrating 15 years in 2019. The precursor was a trailer equipped with a simple rainfall simulator for demonstrating soil erosion. It was a good start, but frankly, it was a limited demonstration and the team quickly realized that they needed a more sophisticated rainfall simulator. In addition, ILF saw the potential to expand its impact by providing a broad canvas for education through visual, interactive and multimedia displays.

“We were awarded funding to purchase and develop a larger trailer and knew how to make a better rainfall simulator,” said Jacqueline Comito, executive director of Water Rocks! and ILF program director. “We just didn’t know how to realize our vision of a traveling and flexible unit. Ann Staudt joined the team to help us, and with her fresh ideas and creativity the Conservation Station was born.”

The trailer, dubbed the Big Conservation Station, allowed space for an improved rainfall simulator as well as a walk-through learning lab. Inside the learning lab, visual and multimedia presentations are designed to engage audiences in conversations and to elicit questions about conservation practices. The learning lab was updated in 2018 to incorporate mixed-media artwork and enhanced messaging with the purpose of eliciting visitors’ hopes for Iowa.

conservationstation_trailer

ILF faculty adviser Matt Helmers developed the new rainfall simulator which more accurately models both surface runoff and subsurface flow or drainage in tiled environments and uses soil blocks extracted from field environments to best parallel actual soil conditions in Iowa fields.

“The complexity of the new rainfall simulator was a challenge, but it also enabled us to tell a much more realistic story that farmers in Iowa could relate to,” noted Staudt.

img_2012.jpgA smaller trailer referred to as Conservation Station 3 was built specifically for outdoor classrooms and other youth activities. Along with a rainfall simulator, it is also equipped with the space to carry enough tables and chairs for students as well as a full complement of displays and activities resources.

Edge of Field Practice Demonstrations Expand Education Opportunities

InCSOTE-01 2018, the original rainfall simulator trailer (which we called the Lil’ CS) was redesigned to become the Conservation Station on the Edge, addressing best practices for nutrient runoff mitigation at the edge of tile-drained fields. Equipped with working saturated buffer and bioreactor models, this trailer takes the story of field runoff to a deeper level. The demonstration stations allow the audience to see what happens within structures –that when implemented in a field are completely underground and out of sight.

Each Conservation Station includes interactive demonstrations that appeal to all backgrounds, ages and walks of life. Games such as the Poo Toss tend to appeal to youngsters but provide tangible lessons about waste runoff that pertains to everyone –whether they live on a farm or in a city. The Watershed Game is another highly visual interactive game that helps make the concepts of a watershed and how pollution moves with water easy to grasp.

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“The Conservation Stations are filling a tremendous need by providing easy-to-understand information about water quality, conservation, agricultural best practices, and other topics of importance to all Iowans,” concluded Staudt. “We intend to continue to share this knowledge as frequently and in as many venues as we can.”

Find out where to see a Conservation Station near you!

The Conservation Stations are used April through October. Click here for the schedule of appearances or to request a visit. In most circumstances, a Conservation Station can join an event at no cost, due to the generous funding received from our partners.

Liz Juchems