Making Monarch Monitoring Accessible for Everyone

Allison Boehm grew up on a farm near Wadena, Iowa, and is entering her final year at ISU, majoring in Environmental Science and pursuing a minor in Animal Ecology. A lifetime Cyclone fan, she loves being outdoors and is excited to be working in the field with ISU researchers.

One of the main goals of Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! is to help keep the community informed and up to date with ways for them to help improve the quality of the land and environment. As a water resources intern this summer, I am participating in a project that does just that!

At the beginning of the summer, I sat down with the extension wildlife specialist at Iowa State, Adam Janke, to brainstorm ideas on how to make monarch monitoring accessible to landowners. Monarch monitoring is counting and recording monarch butterflies, larvae, and their food sources, milkweed and flowering plants. This data quantifies monarch populations and the amount and quality of monarch habitat, which is used to determine where populations are low, and where habitat needs to be created.

These pollinators have been on the decline for many years now, largely due to loss of habitat. There are a few programs across the country that aim to collect information on monarchs through the help of volunteers, but many of them require a lot of time, and do not show landowners monarch data for their own land. This was our goal, to find a manageable way for landowners to keep track of how many monarchs, larvae, and food sources on their land that does not require more than a few hours to complete.

This summer, all seven of the water resources interns have been testing a method that may be the answer. We are also using a well-known method to collect data to compare results. This fall, we will compare to see if both methods yield similar results, and hopefully, we’ll create a guide for landowners to conduct their own monitoring!

This project could allow for everyone to take part in helping save a species that is so vital to the environment!

Allison Boehm

Rediscovering Iowa

Hunter Krichel is slated to graduate from ISU in November 2020 with a degree in Environmental Science and a minor in Biology. He grew up in Woodward, Iowa, where he developed his passion for bettering the earth through outdoor work and activities.

I was incredibly lucky to be able to experience this internship during the unpredictable times we live in right now, due to the virus. Through this internship I have been able to travel to all parts of the state creating activities for families to do when they visit certain parks and collecting data for research. I am definitely the adventurous type and love traveling and driving to foreign places, so this was a perfect fit for me.

Over the course of my time at Iowa State I have learned a ton about the environment and how to better and conserve it, but this internship really opened my eyes to new things I didn’t see before. As I travel to different farms and parks to collect data and other tasks, I notice so many more conservation practices around myself as I travel. Experience from my time studying environmental science gave me a good idea of what was going on and why, but I never was fully understanding and appreciating them.

This internship has changed how I look at the landscape. I notice everything around myself now like terracing, buffer strips, and other water quality conservation practices, I see them all now. I also do a lot of traveling in my free time by camping all around Iowa and the U.S.

Top: Soil Sampling at one of ISU’s research farms
Bottom Left: Logging monarch butterfly data
Bottom Right: View from Five Ridge Prairie and Reserve

I’ve found now that when I am driving, even if it’s not for the internship, I still look for these practices and try to learn from each one. But what I appreciate the most from this internship is that it cemented my ability to look for areas that need conservation practices and I can find out what environmental issue is happening and prescribe a practice that helps combat the problem. My parents live out in the country completely surrounded by farm fields, so they get a lot of runoff.

With my degree and this internship, I feel like I have the tools to help them out with those issues. I know that the experience and the abilities this internship gave me will prove to be very useful in my career path. This experience has just fueled my passion for the outdoors and everything that calls it home.

I am very grateful to Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms for shifting to the new restrictions safely and keeping the internship going. I know that myself and my fellow interns missed out on the outreach section of the internship, but I learned so much in these few months and I appreciate the hard work we put into their projects. I will use what I learned here to do what I always wanted to do and help better the planet and teach others the importance of conservation. 

Hunter Krichel

Global Experience Highlights the Importance of Iowa Agriculture

The next guest post in our Water Resources Internship blog series this summer was written by Riley Wilgenbusch. He is a senior at ISU majoring in Agronomy and Global Resource Systems and grew up in Story City, Iowa, where he spent time on his family’s hobby farm and participated in many agriculture-related activities.

Interning with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! has so far given me a diverse perspective on Iowa Agriculture to contrast my prior international work experiences and studies in Global Resource Systems. In the summer of 2019, specifically, I traveled across Europe and Africa co-authoring a research paper for the Animal Production and Health Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) before working as a public health intern studying the intersectionality between nutrition and health in the context of healthcare delivery systems in Kamuli, Uganda.

Harvesting cacao in Uganda as part of my diversified agriculture education.

This summer, however, my plans brought me back to Iowa where I’m learning about some of the world’s largest agriculture systems with a renewed perspective. I credit my sustainability research at FAO with my renewed sense of urgency in the environmental research portion of the internship. As the interns have been collecting data on monarch habitats in restored prairies, examining soil health data within industrial agriculture systems, and attending webinars and field days focused on a variety of different conservation practices in agriculture, I’m beginning to contextualize the paper I wrote last summer and see firsthand the toll agriculture can take on natural ecosystems if not carefully managed.

I specifically recall a presentation at a field day that highlighted the monocrop systems that dominate Iowa’s landscapes. This is in stark contrast to my experiences working with subsistence farming and nutrition education in Uganda. Understanding the challenges facing people living in food-insecure areas of the world, I’m hopeful to see future crop diversification in Iowa to help make progress toward eliminating food insecurity in the United States.

I also appreciate the diverse landscapes he’s learned about in Iowa this summer, too. In combination with lessons on the history of Iowa’s landscape formation, I have traveled across the state visiting different county parks as part of a project to promote individualized learning activities for youth and families in Iowa’s great outdoors. As I’ve traveled, I’ve gotten to “debunk” the myth that Iowa is all flat cropland. From the steep terrain and terrace farming of the far northeast to the smooth, rolling hills of the southwest, Iowa is full of hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. Having been around the world, I’m thrilled to learn more about the state I’ve always called home.

Working with other interns on prairie plant research related to monarch habitats in central Iowa

As the summer progresses, I’m looking forward to doing more prairie research and monarch monitoring. As pollinator habitats continue to disappear, posing major threats to crop production, the importance of this environmental research can’t be understated. While I’m looking toward a career in healthcare delivery and research, I will always carry an agricultural perspective with me. This internship with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! is a tremendous opportunity to learn hands-on and promote the importance of agriculture and sustainability to audiences across the state.

-Riley Wilgenbusch

Welcome 2020 Water Resources Interns

We have a great crew of interns in the Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! water resources internship program this summer and we’re excited to introduce them to you!

Allison Boehm, from Wadena, IA, and is majoring in Environmental Science at Iowa State University (ISU).

Emma Bruck is originally from Johnston, IA, and is majoring in Global Resource Systems and with Sustainability minor at ISU.

Hunter Krichel, originally from Woodward, IA, is studying Environmental Science at ISU.

Jonah Gray, a native of Cedar Rapids, IA, is double majoring in Environmental Science and Agronomy with a minor in Sustainability at ISU.

Kate Lucas, a native of Lake Saint Louis, MO, is majoring in Biology at ISU.

Lindesy Page, from Maxwell, IA, graduated from ISU this spring with a degree in Forestry and a minor in Animal Ecology.

Riley Wilgenbusch hails from Story City, IA, and he is double majoring in Global Resource Systems and Agronomy at ISU.

This summer is a new adventure for all of us! Typically there would be many opportunities to meet and interact with this great group of students as they traveled to all corners of the state with our fleet of Conservation Station trailers. With the majority of events postponed and canceled due to COVID-19, we can still keep in touch with all the great things they will be working on as each intern will be sharing a guest blog post about their experiences over the course of the summer!

Liz (Juchems) Ripley

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 –  We will conduct interviews with qualified students in early February.

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.

Discovering My Passion

ILFHeader(15-year)IMG_4905This is my second summer working with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms, my first being the summer of 2017. There have been a few moments throughout this summer that made me realize how much I have changed since I first began my internship here two years ago.

Back when I started, I had just changed majors to become a biosystems engineering major, and I was set that I was going to do the bioprocessing/biofuels track. Through my experience with the water resources internship, I found what I really wanted to do, which was working with water quality and other environmental issues.

When I first began the internship, I knew nothing about agriculture, water quality issues, or anything about what I wanted to do in the future. Now, besides the knowledge and experience I have gained through my education and my internships, I also have some solid ideas about what I want to do.

I realized this very recently through two very different workdays.

The first was field work we did for the monarch butterfly survey. We had to trudge through thick, soggy grass taller than me and fight off mosquitos and ticks while looking for milkweed plants in CRP fields. It was miserable, annoying, and painful, but also somehow fun! It was cool to learn how to identify the different species of milkweed, and it was a great feeling when you finally found a plant while walking in circles in chest tall grass for what seemed like hours (even though it was probably 5 minutes).

Monarch MonitoringIt was simultaneously one of the most fun and most miserable days of the summer. And with the help of an entire can of bugs pray, I’m still here! If you had asked me at the beginning of the summer 2 years ago to do that, I’m not sure what I would have done. I do know that I would have had a much worse attitude about it, and that I would not have had any fun whatsoever. I think that represents one way that I have grown, which is to be better at taking things as they come and dealing with it. I think is a very valuable attitude to have in the environmental field, because nothing ever goes as planned when it comes to nature.

The other day was one where I had to present the Conservation Station On the Edge trailer at a field day in NW Iowa. I had been on field days like this before, but with a staff member, and so I had heard this being presented but had never done it myself. I was nervous about doing this myself, because I was worried that I would get questions I couldn’t handle or forget to mention something important. I knew that I had learned a lot of this stuff through coursework and the internship, but I somehow felt that I still wasn’t prepared. But everything went well. I presented the models and information for both the saturated buffer and woodchip bioreactor, and it seemed like I was keeping the audience’s attention.

When it got to time to ask questions, I was nervous, but as they came, I found myself naturally answering them. It turns out, shockingly, that I learned something in college. I think that a major reason that I was nervous for grad school was that somehow, I felt that I wasn’t ready, and that I had managed to fake my way through college. That presentation was one of the first times that I felt confident in what I had learned and my ability to explain it to someone effectively. This has given me a lot of confidence for the future. Going from not knowing a thing about this field two years ago all the way to explaining edge of field practices to landowners is quite a jump, and something that I’m proud of.

Water Rocks! and ILF have really shaped my educational career, and it is an experience that I will take with me and remember for a long time.

Andrew Hillman is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Hillman grew up in Bettendorf and graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Biosystems Engineering. He is off to North Carolina State University to pursue a graduate degree in the fall.

Celebrity Status


I have always been around people younger than me.  Whether it was my thirteen-month younger sister, my six younger cousins, or the kids that I provided care for during the summer.  No matter the relation, these small humans were in every corner of my life, not that I was complaining.  I love being with kids and seeing their unique perspective of the world and how they continuously grow.  Which is why this Water Rocks! internship truly jumped out to me.

IMG_5043In the short amount of time being involved in this program, I have visit been able to educate and inform numerous young minds about the world around them, and what they can do to make Iowa a healthier and cleaner place to live.  Little did I know; I was also going to get the honor of being admired in some of strangest yet heartwarming ways possible.

The first experience was some one-of-a-kind hand-crafted money.  Which was bestowed to me by a sixth grader claiming we were not getting paid enough for what we do.  Each of us that day received two of these unique hundred-dollar bills.  That was not all, the same child came back moments later with three whole pieces of paper and gave each of us large gold replicas of the previous bill, and said, “Here’s a bonus because I actually learned something today.”

The next form of admiration was a fourth-grade begging for the autographs of everyone that presented to him that day.  To say the least all of the interns that day, myself included were a bit dumb-struck.  We had no idea what to say, except asking our supervisor if it was allowed.  When we got the nod of approval, we all started scribbling down our names on the paper. As soon as we were all done the student clung the paper to his chest and gave us a quick thank you before joining the rest of his class lining up at the door.SignaturesLeaving each event, our team discusses the event on the trip back to Ames.  Talking about how we would buy a fancy house with our new found money, get stopped on the street for a picture, or be asked to be featured in Times magazine.  Although small gestures, I knew that what we did truly touched theses students, we helped shape their future in some way.  Whether they do something as small as picking up a piece of trash or going into a career that helps the environment.  I knew this was possible with children that I saw repeatedly, but I did not comprehend that it could be accomplished in fifty minutes or less.  What these kids did reassures me that the same can be done in the outreach events later this summer.   Now I know I have the power to inform all ages of the importance of the environment and conservation.

Clara Huber is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Huber grew up in DeWitt and in the fall, she will be starting her sophomore year at Iowa State University, majoring in Biosystems Engineering.

Learning By Doing

WR!HeaderIf you’ve been keeping up with Water Rocks! for anytime in the past six years, you know we love to teach a wide variety of audiences all about our environment and how to conserve it! What you might not know is just how much we learn from our audiences, from young to wise. Even only being on the team for just under a month, I have been able to learn tremendous amounts from students, adults, and communities across Iowa.

Photo 3

From the small things, like learning carrots are not part of a healthy diet for rabbits during a soils presentation from a 4th grader, to the big things like realizing just how much influence the right knowledge can have on our future generations, I have been absolutely loving what this internship has been able to impart on me in such little time. Of course, I’ve also been able to brush up on my knowledge of the environment through training and teaching our modules, too. It’s been inspiring to see such a young generation so aware of conservation and our environment!

Photo 2

Given an imaginary plot of land and five million dollars, one student constructed a buffer strip of prairies and wetlands without even knowing what a buffer strip was! Another student constructed a hydroelectric powered greenhouse! I’m not sure I would have thought to build anything but a giant treehouse and an ice cream shop in 4th/5th grade. Both urban and rural schools alike have shown tremendous knowledge on conservation, although rural has been more related to farming and urban to consumption.

I’ve gained valuable insight on to how audiences of different ages respond to activities and have been able to enhance my communication skills greatly. Even on the commutes across Iowa, I have been able to better understand the different landscapes, agricultural practices, and arrangements of different parts of the state. Each piece of this internship has been valuable to me, and I know I will continue to learn more and more as the summer goes along!Photo 1

From learning it’s way more fun to be vibrant (check out those awesome nails), the power of a freeze pop in a 5th grade classroom, and just how competitive a game of hopscotch can get, I have been thoroughly enjoying my time at Water Rocks and can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer has in store!


Emma Flemming

Emma Flemming is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Flemming grew up in Des Moines (Roosevelt High School). In the fall, she will be starting her junior year at Iowa State University, majoring in Environmental Science and International Studies.

Meet our 2019 Interns!

We have a great crew of interns in the Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! water resources internship program this summer and we’re excited to introduce this year’s team of college student interns to you!


Pictured above left to right:
Front Row – Becca Wiarda, Emma Flemming, Ashley Armstrong, Taylor Manneman
Back Row – Josh Harms, Andrew Hillman, Clara Huber, Scott Grzybowski

Becca Wiarda, a native of Ackley, IA, is double majoring in Agricultural Business and Finance with minors in Sustainability and Agronomy.

Emma Flemming is originally from Des Moines, IA, and is studying Environmental Science at Iowa State University.

Ashley Armstrong, originally from Montezuma, IA, is studying agricultural education at Dordt College is Sioux Center.

Taylor Manneman, a native of Huntington Beach, CA, is majoring in Environmental Science at Iowa State University.

Josh Harms, from Ellsworth, IA, is serving as an AmeriCorps Volunteer with Water Rocks! and we’re thrilled to have him on board with us until August.

Andrew Hillman, a native of Bettendorf, IA, graduated from Iowa State University this spring with a degree in Agricultural Engineering. He will continue his education this fall at North Carolina State University. We are thrilled to have Andrew back with our program for a second summer!

Clara Huber hails from DeWitt, IA, and she is majoring in Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University.

Scott Grzybowski is originally from Albert Lea, MN, and is a recent graduate from Iowa State with a degree in Chemistry. He will be continuing his education at the University of Iowa this fall.

There will be several chances to meet and interact with this great group of students as the summer goes on. They will be traveling to all corners of the state with our fleet of Conservation Station trailers as we visit county fairs, farmers markets, field days, festivals, camps, and more. Stay tuned to the blog, as each intern will be sharing a guest blog post about their experiences over the course of the summer!

Liz Juchems