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.

Water Rocks! Annual Report Reflects Impacts on Students Across Iowa

The annual school visit evaluation report from Water Rocks! highlights comprehension increases among youth, outreach to new schools and underserved counties, and accolades from teachers

Water Rocks! has published its 2018-2019 School Visits Evaluation Report, detailing the impacts Water Rocks! visits had on students, teachers, and conservation education during the 2018-19 academic year. Water Rocks! teams conducted 197 school visits, 17 more than the previous year, and participated in 13 outdoor classrooms, one more than the previous year. Having identified 11 priority counties that have had limited exposure to Water Rocks!, the team redoubled efforts to connect with schools in these underserved areas – garnering success in eight of the targeted counties.

Water Rocks! is a uniquely Iowan youth conservation and water quality education program that uses a creative mix of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), music and the arts to connect with students in grades K-12 with science-based information about Iowa’s natural resources and ecosystems. Through high-energy classroom presentations, outdoor classroom programs and school assemblies, Water Rocks! energized nearly 33,000 youth during the school year.

With a keen eye on constant improvement, Water Rocks! uses several assessment tools to gather feedback from teachers and students. Among the teachers’ comments were “engaging to the entire class,” “reinforced the ecosystem unit,” and “retention of the information was amazing!” In addition, assessments before and after lessons showed improved comprehension among students for almost all programs when compared to the previous year.

“This report is a guidepost to improving how we teach these important lessons and assure we are delivering the most value in the short time we are with the students,” said Ann Staudt, Water Rocks! director. “The assessments help us identify topics that need more repetition to plant the ideas and concepts more firmly in the students’ minds. We are working with the future leaders and decision-makers for our state, and we feel our role is crucial to building awareness of conservation and water quality for future generations.”


Key findings in the report include:

  • Presented in 197 schools and 13 outdoor classrooms, reaching 32,800 students
  • Key topic comprehension levels increased 40 percentage points or more in all programs when comparing students’ pre- and post-lesson evaluations
  • Of teachers attending Water Rocks! assemblies, 99% would recommend the program to peers

To read the report, learn about assessment methods or to view comments from students and teachers, please visit https://www.waterrocks.org/201819-water-rocks-evaluation-report.

Faces of Conservation: Jacqueline Comito

This blog post is part of our ongoing Faces of Conservation series, highlighting key contributors to ILF, offering their perspectives on the history and successes of this innovative conservation outreach program.


JACQUELINE COMITO
Director, Iowa Learning Farms

Jacqueline Comito joined Iowa Learning Farms in April 2005, soon after it was formed, and has been a key leader and contributor to the program ever since. She brings a strong background in social science that influenced the development and growth of the program’s highly successful evaluation and feedback initiatives.

As Director of ILF, how do you see your role with the organization?
As ILF has grown over the past 15 years, my roles and responsibilities have changed, but fundamentally, I like to think the most important part of my job is to help ensure the organization stays true to what has made us successful—an emphasis on farmer-to-farmer outreach to put information and best practices in front of those that can make the best use of them.

Sometimes I’m a cheerleader and coach, other times I facilitate brainstorming and conversations among team members to continue to develop and expand the vision for ILF. I want to make sure we are effectively and efficiently reaching as many farmers as we can. As an organization we need to continue to grow and improve how we support farmer conservation implementation. This is where a robust evaluation program really helps; it provides a positive feedback loop that fosters ideas and energy for our efforts to help build a Culture of Conservation in tangible ways.

 

Evaluation and feedback are priorities for ILF. How do you see this part of the program evolving in the years ahead?
Evaluation is an organic thing. It must come out of what you are doing with programming. If it’s an integral part of the planning process, programming and evaluation are seamless elements that support each other. For example, when we were building our recently launched Emerging Farmers program, we included evaluation and feedback in the mix from the beginning. We used these tools to fine-tune the program to the unanticipated and evolving needs of participants. This approach helps us deliver more value to our participants more quickly.


How important is youth outreach—such as the Water Rocks! program—to Iowa making progress on conservation, water quality improvement and the nutrient reduction goals for Iowa?
It’s incredibly important! With youth we are playing the long game. We are planting seeds with these young people about conservation, water quality, and what they can do individually to have an impact. When they become decision-making adults, our hope is that they will have a solid framework and environmental ethic that puts natural resources challenges and solutions in the forefront of their thoughts and actions.

In addressing today’s youth, we are speaking with the future scientists and inventors. Not only are we providing education, we feel as though we are modeling career opportunities in science and research.

 

If you had to choose two, what are the most impactful achievements or lessons-learned from the first 15 years of ILF, and how do they inform the path going forward?
Field days. We’ve developed an excellent process for organizing, promoting, and operating field days that works for everyone involved, and takes a lot of pressure off the host farmer or organization. Field day programs are crucial to facilitating farmer-to-farmer conversations.

The Conservation Station trailers have also been a significant achievement for ILF. Designing and redesigning these mobile classrooms across the years have kept materials fresh, enabled us to respond to feedback, and drawn audiences to learn about conservation, farming practices and water quality. Utilizing the trailers at county fairs, farmers markets and community gatherings, we’ve been incredibly successful in taking the conservation message to the public.


How do you see the next five years of ILF evolving?
ILF will continue to be a strong voice providing education and advocacy for conservation practices at venues from field days to classroom programs. There is no end in sight for the need to continually reinforce the challenges facing Iowa and provide information and education through outreach programs such as ILF.

 

What are your fondest memories of working with ILF?
The relationships I’ve formed with colleagues and people throughout the state are very special to me. I’ve particularly enjoyed getting to know many farmers and learning about farming processes, challenges and their conservation efforts. Even if there are long periods between meetings, when I do get a chance to see them it’s like seeing an old friend. Relationships and community are essential to the success of ILF, and we are striving to make the most of advocates across Iowa to help build a Culture of Conservation that will benefit all.


If you could look 15 years into the future, what one thing would you like to see as a result of ILF activities?

My hope for the future of Iowa includes a substantial increase in the number of wetlands. I would love to be a part of finding a solution and resources to make a reality of the goal to take three-to-four percent of cropland out of production and return it to prairie and wetlands. We would also like to build a fourth Conservation Station trailer with an emphasis on wetlands education.


Previous Posts in our Faces of Conservation series:

The Ripple Effect

Backpacks and binders. Construction paper and crayons. Pens, pencils, and Post-its. Back-to-school season is upon us! There’s such an excitement in the air as students get stocked up on supplies in preparation for the start of a new school year ahead.

While school supply shopping in August is symbolic of the back-to-school movement, back-to-school preparations have been underway since June for 64 K-12 teachers participating in the Water Rocks! Teacher Summit workshops put on by our team. These teachers descended upon the Iowa State University campus for two days of learning and full immersion on all things water, soil, and natural resources.

Why train teachers? Educating youth on water, land, and wildlife issues in the natural environment is a team effort!  While the demand for agricultural products is ever increasing, as is society’s demand for clean water, the health of our water bodies and our land rests in the engagement of youth as the future decision-makers. At the same time, schools statewide face ever-tightening budgets and elimination of field trips exposing students to these topics. Enter Water Rocks! and our Teacher Summits.

If we can help classroom teachers expand their knowledge, comfort, and confidence in teaching about natural resources issues and science-based solutions for Iowa’s environment, we can build a cohort of passionate, energetic educators that are on the front lines in reaching the next generation. If we can equip teachers with hands-on games, interactive activities, and ready-to-use materials to help convey conservation concepts in the classroom, we can create a ripple effect in terms of youth water education. Training teachers means the potential for directly reaching hundreds, if not thousands, of students statewide as teachers integrate these Iowa-centric natural resources topics, games, and activities year after year. Training is one of the three keys pillars of the Conservation Learning Group at ISU, and the Water Rocks! Teacher Summits help educators make waves when it comes to integrating natural resources topics in creative and engaging ways with their students.

Over the course of each Water Rocks! Teacher Summit, participants are introduced to agricultural and environmental topics through presentations by ISU faculty and researchers working directly in these fields, broadening their understanding of the current science. How is that information translated back into the classroom, whether it be to 4th graders or high school students?  The Water Rocks! team makes it easy, pairing each expert presentation with a fun and engaging hands-on activity or interactive game that teachers can use with their students back in the classroom. For instance, Randall Cass, ISU Extension Entomologist, spoke to participants about the challenges facing bees and pollinators, which was followed by participants competing in the original Monarch Migration Madness game developed by Water Rocks!. Each school team goes home with an activity kit chock full of ready-to-use educational materials for the classroom. Finally, a field tour gives teachers the opportunity to better understand the connections between land management, water quality, and wildlife habitat as they explored conservation practices firsthand on the ground.

Since 2014, Water Rocks! has conducted 13 summits, reaching 263 teachers, 14 high school peer mentors and 62 Extension and environmental educators—multiplying the impact of our engaging youth water education efforts across the state and across generations!


Mikell Brosamle, Galva-Holstein Community Schools, can’t wait for her students to experience the connectedness of the environment around them through the use of games and activities:

“I found the Summit to be refreshing and invigorating. … I received a plethora of useful classroom materials and information on how to present them in a format that kids will LOVE! … With all the hands-on games, intriguing music videos, along with educational activities to support the lesson, the students will be excited about learning how to improve their environment and save habitats by learning that all water is connected. It will teach them that EVERYONE plays an important role and that their choices are important.”


Several teachers acknowledged how much they personally learned about agricultural production, water quality, and the environment around them. Kathy Lynott, from Erskine Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, shared how her personal perspectives have shifted after two days at the Water Rocks! Summit:

“I predict I’m going to drive into a ditch or get pulled over for swerving on the road. This is a result of my participation in the WATER ROCKS! Summit. My erratic driving happened the MINUTE I left the Summit.

 “My eyes are constantly wandering off to corn and bean fields now!? I’m looking at the slope of the fields, if they’re draining into little waterways, what, if any, buffer crops are surrounding the fields, how large the buffer crops are and I’m even noticing the curvature of the fields. My poor husband had no idea what he was in for when I arrived home. … He grew up on a farm so he was already pretty knowledgeable about land and water. He was, however, still open to listen to new ideas especially about the pollution nitrate and phosphorus are causing to fresh water sources.

 “It’s not just nitrate and phosphorus… it’s a combination of trash, poop, loose soil, fertilizers, pesticides, and oil all going into our water. Yes, the same water we drink from. Doing our part by picking up dog poo, recycling and conserving water are small ways we can make a big difference. … Also, the milkweed around our property will now be carefully tended to. I literally mowed AROUND 2 plants I noticed next to the fence line yesterday.”


With back-to-school on the horizon, it’s high time to get those scissors, staplers, and spiral notebooks ready to go. And you can send the kids and grandkids back to school knowing that there’s an amazing cohort of teachers across the state equipped with sound science, brimming with enthusiasm, and ready to rock their students’ worlds when it comes to learning about Iowa’s water, land, and wildlife.

Ann Staudt

The 2019 Water Rocks! Teacher Summits were made possible through funding from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (USEPA Section 319) and Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

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

 

Two Months of Adventure

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Over the past couple months, I’ve been having a ton of fun with multiple activities of the Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms water resources internship. I started working for them on May 15th and am constantly impressed by how many different things that we do. During the first few weeks I worked, I was assigned to classroom visits and assemblies.

IMG_0073I had a terrific time developing my own style of presenting our information and really enjoyed working with the kids. They tended to grasp the importance of what we taught quickly through the games of the classroom presentations and the songs and activities of the assemblies. My favorite part of working with these kids are the often hilarious answers that they give to questions. I remember during my first week I was telling the kids that we were going to go back in time 200 years, and I asked how long ago that was. One of the kids immediately raised his hand-he looked really confident-and said “1934.” There are tons of answers like that one during our classroom visits.

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Scott as Mr. Raindrop in the watershed assembly skit.

It is also quite fun to see people break out of their shells during our assemblies. They are very participation driven and we ask kids and adults to come up and dance or sing with us. At first, they are hesitant, then once a few of the other kids come up front, they immediately all want to join in the fun. It gets better as the assemblies go on as well, with more kids willing to come forward. At first I was hesitant to sing the song “Scoop that Poop” but once I saw that the kids loved it I found it was much easier to enjoy.

After the first few weeks of the internship, we started doing field work including midden counting, monarch observation, or nitrate level observation. I like almost every part of these activities (except when my waterproof boots get water in them because my jeans are so wet water leaks in through their tops). The field work experience helped the information I had been teaching come to life. As a chemist, I had limited previous exposure to outdoor scientific activities. This allowed me to see how ecosystems function in a way represented by numbers, as opposed to simple observation.

Photo 3I have also recently participated in going around to county fairs and farmer’s markets with our trailers to inform both adults and kids how to protect our environment. These events are fun because I get to directly engage with people who wish to learn about the things we are teaching.

Overall, I have been impressed with the diversity of how we present our information, even though we are presenting very similar information across all of our activities. I have been given the privilege to travel all across Iowa and see the various communities that we have. It is amazing to see everyone so passionate about what we are presenting. If these next few weeks are anything like the last couple months, I can’t wait to see what they have in store!

Scott Grzybowski is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Grzybowski grew up in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Chemistry. He is off to the University of Iowa to pursue a graduate degree in the fall.