Learning Life Lessons as ISU Water Resources Interns

Both Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! owe a lot of their successes over the past decade to the energy and enthusiasm of student Water Resources Interns. Each summer the young people in these positions have become the faces and voices of water and land resource management, conservation, and agricultural practices which benefit Iowa’s environment. The programs are closely affiliated with the highly-regarded Iowa State University (ISU) Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering which provides research opportunities as well as much foundational science for the outreach efforts.

Interns come from different degree programs, backgrounds and even states. (Know a college student who might be interested? Applications are open now through Jan. 31 for our 2019 Water Resources Internship Program!) The common thread among them is enthusiasm for engaging with members of the community through different learning and demonstration opportunities. Forty-five individuals have served in this important role over the years. We asked them to reflect on what they gained and learned from the experience, and were quite pleased with the responses.

Eleven Years and still going strong
From a relatively small beginning as student research assistantships in 2007, the internship program provided resources which enabled Iowa Learning Farms to respond to research needs, programming opportunities and expansions of outreach. From humble beginnings 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.

My favorite intern memories were taking the Conservation Station to field days. It was a neat experience to see communities bonding over conservation and their love of the land. –Emily Steinweg, 2011


Jumping in with both feet
As summer interns, there is no warmup period, the work starts on day one and keeps going throughout the ten-week term. Research projects are ready to go, Conservation Station events are booked, and since the university summer overlaps with the primary and secondary school spring semester, lending a hand with Water Rocks! school visits fills up the initial weeks.

Interns are expected to know some, learn a lot of new, and be able to put new knowledge and skills to work immediately. Flexibility and learning on your feet are fundamental requirements. Some interns have noted that it’s about learning how much you don’t know and having fun filling the gaps. Over the years many have contributed to the ILF blog sharing their experiences.

Intern duties include collecting water and soil samples, working under the direction of staff, faculty and graduate students, tabulating data, driving – and parking – trailers, participating in video projects, and staffing the Conservation Station. As representatives of Iowa Learning Farms in many venues, interns quickly become experts at listening, communicating and educating.

The Conservation Conversation
A common theme we heard from our former interns was their development of stronger public speaking and communications skills. Leading or participating in a public event, county fair, or field day would bring them face to face with people of different ages and backgrounds. The audience diversity kept them on their toes in shaping the information to make sure they connected with the audience.

The internship for me was a lot about public speaking and being able to interact with any age group or demographic. – Ryan Nelson, 2009, 2010

The biggest, perhaps most important, skill I developed was communication with the public. As a farmer myself, it’s relatively easy to communicate with other farmers. But with the public, one has to explain the basics in a way that a non-farmer can understand. –Mikayla Edwards, 2015

Working with ILF provided many of our interns with valuable experience that they continue to use in their careers – even in fields beyond conservation and water quality. From teachers to manufacturing engineers, being a part of a team and communicating information, ideas and solutions are universal skills.

I was exposed to people ranging from a farmer who thought cover crops were ridiculous to a sixth-grader learning about soil and water interactions. Understanding how the message needs to be tailored or modified to a specific audience has greatly benefited me in my career. –Brett McArtor, 2012

The majority of problems that I work on in my career necessitate a team to be involved; however, the expectation is that I will be able to problem solve and troubleshoot to contribute toward the solution. The combination of teamwork and independence that I exercised as a student intern for ILF prepared me well for this type of environment. –Patrick Kelly, 2012, 2013

The biggest benefits of being a part of ILF for me professionally would have to be the experience of giving short, informal presentations, and the importance of honestly saying, I don’t know. There is considerable skill in taking a message, condensing it into something manageable, wording it in such a way that others without background knowledge can understand, and presenting it in such a manner to grab and hold the attention of your listeners. This is something helpful for me as a software engineer as pitching ideas to clients or management needs to undergo this process in order to be effective. –Nathan Waskel, 2016, 2017


Making a Connection
One thing we’ve repeatedly observed at Conservation Station stops is that many of our adult audience members will seek out the interns just to talk. They seem drawn to the enthusiasm shown by these young adults in sharing their stories and connecting to people through excitement and hopeful messages. Many of these folks have a genuine interest in learning about the interns’ backgrounds, how they are doing in school, and where they see themselves after graduation. In fact, older citizens seem to prefer watching the young people present than the ISU-based professionals. And the interns truly appreciate the conversations and audience interactions as well.

The knowledge I gained from community members teaching community members helped me make the decision to continue in the course of community education and engagement. –Megan Koppenhafer, 2015, 2016, and 2018 AmeriCorps Service Member

It always felt nice to have people come up and talk about their own experiences with conservation. –Nathan Waskel, 2016, 2017

While visiting the Conservation Station one dad said to me, “I want my kids to know about this stuff; a lot of people don’t realize how important it is.” It was rewarding to make that connection. –Wyatt Kaldenberg, 2018

The other strong connection we see is with children in the audience. At field days and fairs young people are drawn to the goofy games and hands-on activities – but we see the parents and grandparents leaning in and learning along the way. And when they get into schools for Water Rocks! assemblies and outdoor classrooms, the interns have a chance to teach – and sometimes get stumped – by the next generation.

Teaching youth during outdoor classrooms opened my eyes to youth development and education. I loved seeing things click and watching their excitement grow as they understood how their actions could impact the environment either negatively or positively. –Brittney Carpio, 2012

I was caught off guard when a fifth-grade student asked, “What inspires you to do this?” After a long moment of panic, and a room full of fifth-graders staring up at me, I finally came up an answer. The experience made me think and quickly translate my passion for conservation into words I hope made an impact on another generation. –Kaleb Baber, 2017, 2018


Hands-on Research
When not on the road with the Conservation Stations, the interns also spend a good deal of time conducting hands-on research. Tasks range from taking water and soil samples to things such as counting earthworms. While these simple tasks are beneficial to ongoing research, there is also a lot of learning going on. Interns learn research techniques and gain an understanding of the importance of research processes and protocols to obtaining verifiable and repeatable results.

Earthworm counting is exactly what it sounds like. We head to test plots all over the state to look at the number of earthworms within a 19” x 30” frame between the rows of crops, corn or soybeans. – Donovan Wildman, 2018

Understanding the theory or research behind a process is an important first step, but a project is far from complete at this stage. Once the system is operating in the ‘real world’, such as the working bioreactors in the ILF program, there are many unpredictable factors that can arise. –Kate Sanocki, 2016

In addition to the field research, interns have also helped conduct various social science research through the years helping with survey mailings and data collection as well as event evaluations. The event evaluations, in particular, demonstrate to the interns the importance of documenting impact on an event by event basis.


A Bidirectional Impact
Water Resources Interns are crucial to the ongoing success of ILF and Water Rocks! outreach and education activities. Every year they infuse the team with new energy, perspectives and ideas. The interns are there to learn and gain valuable career experience, but their contributions over the years have also helped make the programming and content better and more impactful for all constituencies.

What does it take to become a Water Resources Intern?
In a word, Enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm to learn, enthusiasm to teach, and enthusiasm to engage with Iowans from all walks of life. We can teach them the content, but the spark and passion for sharing what they know and learning what they don’t is what makes for great interns and great experiences.

Interns will be challenged with new ideas, new tasks and some exhausting days. We seek people who are passionate about conservation, the environment, water or soil quality, and agriculture. To learn more about the Water Resources Internship program, and for application instructions, please visit our 2019 Water Resources Internship Program page — applications close this Thursday, Jan. 31!

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This story was first published in Wallaces Farmer in December 2018.

Water Rocks! is Hiring!

BREAKING: Water Rocks! has new openings available in our 2018-19 Water Resources Internship Program!

Have an interest in the environment, conservation, and agriculture, particularly water and soil quality? We are seeking college graduates to join the Water Rocks! team for a 12-month paid internship, starting September 2018. The ideal candidates will be 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. Interns will have the opportunity to:

  • Work with two exciting Iowa State University education and outreach programs:
    o Water Rocks!, focused on youth outreach, and
    Iowa Learning Farms, focused on farmer outreach
    • Help children and adults better understand environmental and agricultural issues
    • Travel throughout the state of Iowa with the fleet of Conservation Station trailers
    • Develop strong oral communication skills
    • Contribute to water and soil quality research projects in ISU’s Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
    • Gain technical skills related to environmental science, soil and water quality through both field and lab research

Applications close on August 17, with interviews to be scheduled during the last week of August. We look forward to seeing some stellar applications as we search for the next rock star member(s) of our dynamic team!

Ann Staudt

 

The Future Looks Bright

Back in late February, I made a decision to join the Water Rocks! team for the summer. Little did I know that decision would take me to every corner of the state, meeting countless new faces. I knew this summer was going to be an adventure but I had never guessed that it would be on such a great magnitude.

My name’s Wyatt Kaldenberg, a pretty standard farm boy from Southern Iowa. I grew up being surrounded by agriculture, on the family farm and got very familiar with the ins and outs of farm life. I soon realized it was difficult to get people not involved in agriculture to become interested in it. I think that’s what has surprised me most about this internship, people’s willingness to explore agriculture.Last week I was at an event in Eastern Iowa, with the Conservation Station. The Conservation Station is a trailer that features a Rainfall Simulator out the back, as well as an Enviroscape watershed model. At this event I was stationed at the Rainfall Simulator and answering questions from the occasional passerby.  A family of five stopped by the simulator. The dad told me that he had grown up on a farm but he had chosen not to farm as a career. Being in the same boat myself, we soon struck up a great conversation.

We talked about the importance of soil conservation and improving water quality. His three kids soon became interested in the rainfall simulator and started asking some questions themselves. “Why does that look like chocolate milk?,” one kid asked while pointing to the runoff from the intense tillage tray. I explained that working the soil could make it loose and how it could easily get washed away from the field if there was a big rainstorm. The answer satisfied her question and I told her that her and her siblings could learn more if they went to the side of the trailer and checked out the Enviroscape, or as we call it, the Watershed Game. The dad then said to me, “I want my kids to know about this stuff; a lot of people don’t realize how important it is.” I agreed and we talked for another minute or so before he thanked me for my time talking and joined his kids and wife at the Enviroscape.

Wyatt had the opportunity to present the Rainfall Simulator to both Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg (L) and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig (R) at county fairs this summer!

Although I just described one conversation I’ve had while on this internship, this is not an unusual encounter. People from all over Iowa, agriculture background or not, want to learn more about how they can help maintain Iowa’s beauty. It’s nice to be able to tell them that no matter if they’ve lived on a farm their whole life or just seen cows from the interstate, they can help make a difference. I’m so ecstatic that I’m a part of a team that gets to spread that message. The future looks bright, Iowa.

Wyatt Kaldenberg

Wyatt Kaldenberg, originally from Indianola, is participating in the 2018 Water Resources Internship Program. Kaldenberg grew up on a family farm and has served as an Assistant Commissioner with the Warren Co. Soil and Water Conservation District. In the fall, he will be starting his junior year at Iowa State University, majoring in Finance and Management with a minor in Ag Business.

Inspiration through Exploration

Today’s guest blog post comes from student intern Kaleb Baber, majoring in Agronomy and minoring in Geology at Iowa State University. Kaleb grew up on a family farm near Weston, MO, where he grew sweet corn, raised beef cattle, and was actively involved in FFA. We’re thrilled to have Kaleb back for a second summer in the Water Resources Internship Program!

For every classroom visit, the Water Rocks! team makes sure to leave time for students to ask us questions. On a visit near the beginning of my internship this summer, we had just finished presenting a lesson on watersheds when a student posed a question that caught me off guard. He asked, “What inspires you to do this?”

My coworkers and I all stared at each other like deer in headlights. It was a simple question, but one none of us had given much thought to. What did inspire me? Why did I care so much about water resources? Panic began to set in. I wanted to give a thoughtful answer to the student, but my mind was drawing a blank. With a room full of fifth graders starting up at me, I finally came up with something.

When I think about water, some of my favorite memories come to mind. I love being outdoors, so naturally I am outside whenever I have the chance. Growing up, it was a summer tradition for my family to go fishing in Ontario. I did not realize it at the time, but looking back now I realize that those family vacations when I was little helped shape my interests going forward.

Since those fishing trips, I have been fortunate enough to travel to some truly amazing places. In some places, like Yosemite Valley, the role of water in the landscape is obvious as waterfalls tumble over the towering walls of granite forged by massive glaciers. In other places, like the endless red sandstone of southern Utah, water is rarely seen. However, its effects have made a lasting impression by sculpting incredible rock formations through weathering and erosion.

From the secluded lakes of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the powerful Colorado River that carved the Grand Canyon, water and its influences are all around us. Water is one of our most important natural resources, and I firmly believe that the best way to understand that is to go experience it firsthand. I am so grateful to have had these adventures, and I know for a fact that my passion for the outdoors began as a child on my family’s fishing trips to Ontario.

So to answer the student’s question, what inspires me to intern for Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms is the memories I have made thanks to our water resources. Those memories inspire me to go outside and get up close and personal with nature. They inspire me to do my part in conserving our natural resources. And most of all, they inspire me to share the importance of clean, healthy water with others in hopes that they will make memories of their own.

Kaleb Baber

 

Meet Our 2018 Water Resources Interns!

We would like to warmly welcome our new crew of interns for the 2018 summer outreach season! These students come from farms across Iowa and Missouri and are ready to share their knowledge with you. Stop by our trailers this summer and say hi. Catch our interns at your local county fairs, farmers markets, field days and more.

For a full list of summer events, see our website. The interns will also be playing a role in field work and data collection for research projects with Iowa State University’s Ag Water Management research group.

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Pictured above from left to right: Wyatt Kaldenberg, Taylor Kuehn, Kaleb Baber, Donovan Wildman and Dawn Henderson

Wyatt Kaldenberg is from a family farm near Indianola in south central Iowa and is majoring in finance at Iowa State. He will be a junior this fall.

Taylor Kuehn is from a family farm near New Hampton in northeast Iowa and majoring in agricultural studies at Iowa State. She will be a senior this fall.

Kaleb Baber grew up on a family farm near Weston, Missouri, just north of Kansas City. He is pursuing a degree in agronomy and a minor in geology at Iowa State. Kaleb will be a senior this fall. We are thrilled to have Kaleb back with our program for a second summer!

Donovan Wildman is from a family farm near West Branch in east central Iowa and is majoring in agricultural and biosystems engineering (land and water resources engineering option) and minoring in agronomy at Iowa State. He will be a sophomore this fall.

Dawn Henderson is from a family farm near Marcus in northwest Iowa. She is majoring in agronomy and will be heading into her senior year at Iowa State this fall.

We are happy to have our interns on board! Watch for their social media posts on Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! pages as well as their reflections on their internship experience on our blog.

 

Guest Blog: Behind the Scenes with Water Sampling, Part I

Today’s guest blogger is Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! student intern Mikayla Edwards. Originally hailing from the Anamosa area, Mikayla is beginning her senior year at Iowa State University, pursuing a degree in Animal Ecology.

Three hours away, there is a faraway land that we like to call the Southeast Research Farm at Crawfordsville. In that faraway land our Iowa Learning Farms program has placed fancy tubes two feet into the ground. These tubes are called lysimeters. Lysimeters have a vacuum seal and collect the infiltrated water from the surrounding ground.

In Iowa, nitrates from agricultural lands are a hot topic regarding water quality. Nitrates are dangerous to infants, the ill, and the elderly when they reach drinking water in high quantities. Farmers are using various techniques to prevent nitrate loss to the water for many reasons. Crops need the nitrates, they cost a lot of money, and they are no good in the water, especially when they reach the Gulf of Mexico and cause a huge algal bloom in what’s commonly referred to as “The Dead Zone.”

As part of our National Conservation Innovation Grant cover crop mixtures project, our program is using these lysimeters to test the water’s nitrate levels in corn/soybean fields with different forms of cover: single species cover crop, cover crop mixture, and no cover. Water is collected biweekly from the Southeast Research Farm and four others around the state to see how the different levels of cover are affecting the nitrate levels in the water. Visually, the sites all look pretty similar other than the different covers. A couple areas in each plot still have cover crop remnants but the only thing in the other areas is this year’s crop, either corn or soybeans.

This is what a lysimeter looks  like from the surface.  Sometimes they are covered  completely or just partially  depending on what has  happened in the field lately.

This is what a lysimeter looks like from the surface – notice the white PVC cap protecting the lysimeter inside. Sometimes they are covered completely or just partially depending on what has happened in the field lately.

This is what the lysimeter looks like once the protective cap has been removed. The O ring holding the bend is removed and then a small tube from the collection flask is threaded through the top of the rubber opening at the top of the tube.

This is what the lysimeter looks like once the protective cap has been removed. The O ring holding the bend is removed and then a small tube from the collection flask is threaded through the top of the rubber opening at the top of the tube.

Collecting the water samples is not a difficult task. All that has to be done is open a small tube that has been bent to hold the vacuum seal, attach a vacuum pump to a collection container, feed an even smaller tube from the collection container into the lysimeter, give the vacuum a few pumps and wah-lah! Assuming there is a sample, water will quickly start flowing into the collection container.

Once the tube is all the way to  the bottom of the lysimeter and  a vacuum is applied, a sample  fills the collection flask!

Once the tube is all the way to the bottom of the lysimeter and a vacuum is applied, a sample fills the collection flask!

After the sample is collected, there are a few other steps to be completed. First, the sample must be emptied into a clean plastic bottle and labeled with the lysimeter number, location, date, and level of cover. Any leftover sample water is dumped a few feet away from the lysimeter to prevent it from going right back in. Next, deionized water is used to clean the collection container and tube. This is done by putting the tube into a bottle of the deionized water and giving the vacuum a few pumps so the water flows through the tube and is then swished around the collection container and also dumped a few feet away.

Once the sample is emptied into a bottle and labeled, the collection flask and tubing must be cleaned with deionized water, aka DI water, to prevent any contamination from one sample to the next.

Once the sample is emptied into a bottle and labeled, the collection flask and tubing must be cleaned with deionized water, aka DI water, to prevent any cross contamination from one sample to the next.

Lastly, the vacuum seal must be reapplied so that a new sample can be obtained over the next couple weeks. For this, the vacuum pump is attached directly to the lysimeter and 60 psi of pressure are applied. An O ring is then placed over a bend in the tubing so that the vacuum stays sealed in.

After everything is cleaned, the vacuum  is reapplied to the lysimeter so that a  sample will be collected over the next  two weeks for testing!

After everything is cleaned, the vacuum is reapplied to the lysimeter so that a sample will be collected over the next two weeks for testing!

So, that is the process for one lysimeter and there are 24 at each research farm. The whole process takes about two hours depending on how many samples there are, which is affected by the amount of rainfall there has been. Lately, we have had a lot of rain so we have been getting 20-24 samples from each farm! For comparison, when we started back in May, we were only getting around 15 because of the dryness.

So, that is how a lysimeter water sample is collected! But that’s not all we have to do! The three hour drive home must be repeated and then the data must be entered into the electronic database when we get back to campus. We record which lysimeters had samples and they are given a new sample ID number. Then the labels are taped on to prevent any damage and they are placed in a cooler until they can be sent to the lab for testing.

The whole process is actually pretty fun when you work with fun people; good conversations are always had with fellow interns. The tan lines though, they are pretty atrocious!

Mikayla Edwards

Water Resources Internship Opportunity

2015InternPoster

Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! are in search of undergraduate student interns for our 2015 Water Resources Internship Program.

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:

  • Work with two exciting Iowa State University education and outreach programs:
  • Help Iowans of all ages better understand environmental and agricultural issues
  • Travel throughout the state of Iowa with the fleet of three Conservation Station trailers
  • Develop strong oral communication skills
  • Contribute to water and soil quality research projects with the Agricultural Water Management group in ISU’s Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
  • Gain technical skills related to environmental science, soil and water quality through both field and lab work

The paid internship program is based on campus at Iowa State University and will involve travel to research sites and various outreach events around the state.  Internships begins Monday, May 11 and run through Friday, July 31, 2015.

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

Visit the 2015 Water Resources Internship Program page for additional details and further information about how to apply.  The application deadline is Friday, February 6.

Ann Staudt