Meet Our 2017 Water Resources Interns!

We are happy to introduce a great crew of interns this year! You can catch our interns out this summer at county fairs, farmers markets, field days and festivals across the great state of Iowa as they travel with our fleet of Conservation Station trailers. Our interns will also play a large role in field work and data collection for research projects with Iowa State University Extension’s Iowa Learning Farms program and Iowa State’s Ag Water Management research group.


Pictured above from left to right:

Elizabeth Schwab, hailing all the way from Levittown, Pennsylvania, is double majoring in Agronomy and Environmental Science at Iowa State. Elizabeth will begin her senior year this fall.

Chase Bethany, representing northeast Iowa, grew up in Chickasaw County in New Hampton. Chase is studying Agricultural Engineering (Power and Machinery Option) with a minor in business at Iowa State and will be a junior this fall.

Kaleb Baber represents the great state of Missouri. Kaleb grew up in Weston, Missouri, and headed north to pursue a degree in Agronomy at Iowa State. Kaleb will be a junior this fall.

Andrew Hillman hails from eastern Iowa and is a native of Bettendorf. Andrew is studying Biological Systems Engineering at Iowa State and will begin his junior year this fall.

Laura Lacquement, originally from Martensdale, Iowa, in Warren County, is studying Environmental Science and heading into her senior year this fall.

We are happy to have our interns on board! Come meet them at a community event near you. Keep your eyes peeled on the blog and on our program social media pages as our interns author guest blogs, talk about their experiences and share what they think is important about water quality, conservation and our natural resources.

Iowa Learning Farms: Follow Iowa Learning Farms on Facebook and Twitter!
Water Rocks!: Follow Water Rocks! on Facebook and Twitter!

Julie Whitson

Happy World Water Day!

Today is World Water Day! Each year, World Water Day gives us an opportunity to learn more about water and how we can improve our water quality and conserve the water we have throughout the world. This year’s theme focuses on wastewater, and specifically, how we can reduce and reuse wastewater.

In cities and towns throughout Iowa, we are fortunate to have wastewater treatment plants that exist for one sole purpose: to treat the water that we send down the drain when we take showers, wash our dishes, brush our teeth and flush our toilets. The water we use for those purposes goes down the drain and to your local wastewater treatment plant, where it is treated and then released to a nearby water body in accordance with state  and federal permitting processes. In fact, wastewater treatment facilities are so important to clean water that we created a song, “Salute to Wastewater,” that is perfect for this year’s World Water Day.

At Iowa Learning Farms, it’s our job every day to think about water. I’m sure many of you also think about water as part of your job, your health and how water might impact your future and even your children’s future. For World Water Day, I challenge you to think about how you use water in a day. Think about your daily habits, and then change one habit at home for a week. Remember, regardless of where you live in the state or country, we’re all connected through our water resources!

Julie Whitson

Second Year Perspectives: Back for Round II

NOTE: You’ve been meeting our great group of college interns through their guest blog posts these past couple weeks, but it’s time now that we show some love to our outstanding high school interns, as well!  Kicking things off is Jessica Rehmann, a 2016 Ames High School graduate who is back for her second year in the high school water resources internship program.

My name is Jessica Rehmann, and I have come back to intern with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms for a second year. I just graduated from Ames High School, and I will be a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis in the fall.

MeetTheInterns-JessicaLast year, I enjoyed my experience with the internship, and I appreciated the variety of tasks, including field research and outreach. I learned a lot about conservation practices and farming methods, and I saw them in use when I worked in the fields collecting data for research. At outreach events, I learned how to effectively communicate field research results and conservation practices to the public.

Soybeans flowering in the field, June 2016

Soybeans flowering in the field, June 2016

Because I have grown up in a suburban environment, I had little prior knowledge of anything related to farming before the internship. Now I can have educated discussions on conservation practices. I decided to do the internship again this year because I wanted to continue working on research projects from last year, doing more outreach with the community, and learning more about conservation and sustainable farming practices.

As I did last year, I have counted earthworm middens in the fields. This year the counting was easier and faster because I knew better what I was looking for in each plot!

Counting earthworm middens in cover crop strips at the ISU Boyd Farm earlier in June.

Counting earthworm middens in cover crop strips at the ISU Boyd Farm earlier in June.

I have also collected water samples from lysimeters in the field. The last time I went, the field had just had a large rainfall, so the lysimeters were very full. I am excited to learn how to analyze data from the lysimeters.


Tools of the trade for collecting water samples from the suction lysimeters.


The internship has also involved two of the extracurricular activities I enjoy the most: music and art. Last year, one of my favorite parts of the internship was getting to play saxophone in the recording studio for two of the tracks on the new children’s music CD Trees, Bees, and More Nature Songs for Water Rocks! I liked the opportunity to tie my work and music together. I also saw how an analog recording studio works, which was a neat experience.


Recording at Junior’s Motel Recording Studio, near Otho, last year.

This year, I have a new creative side to the internship: I am helping to redesign the website for the Conservation Pack and helping to write an interactive “Letters to the Conservation Pack” activity for kids.

I am also excited for the fair season to reach full swing! My first event was recently working in the Keosauqua Farmers Market, and in the upcoming weeks, I will attend more county fairs.


Leading the hands-on Enviroscape activity (aka Watershed Game) at the Dallas Co. Fair last summer (TOP) and the Keosauqua Farmers Market this year (BOTTOM).

My experiences with this internship and my love of hiking and the outdoors have made me want to study environmental science in college. In the fall I will be taking a class on Missouri’s natural heritage, which will cover environmental science and more. Because sustainable practices are important and relevant–especially in the Midwest–I am interested in their technical foundations and the social and political aspects of implementing them. I am excited to see where the rest of the internship this summer will take me!

Jessica Rehmann

Meet Our Interns!

We have a fabulous crew of interns in the Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! water resources internship program this summer, so without further ado, we’d like to introduce our college student interns to you!


Pictured above from left to right:

Nathan Waskel, originally from Altoona, IA, is studying Computer Science at ISU. He has been working with Dr. Helmers and the STRIPs team for a year-plus, and will be helping out with Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! outreach this summer in addition.

Megan Koppenhafer, a native of Williamsburg, IA, is double majoring in Environmental Science and Community and Regional Planning at ISU. We are thrilled to have Megan back with our program for a second summer, serving as our student/staff liaison!

Hannah Corey is originally from Lake City, IA, and is double majoring in Agronomy and Environmental Science at ISU.

Sam Phillips hails from Manchester, IA, and he is studying Agricultural Engineering (Land & Water Resources Option) at ISU.

Kate Sanocki represents the great state of Wisconsin! Growing up in Hudson, WI, Kate headed south to ISU to pursue a degree in Biological Systems Engineering.

Amanda Marlin is originally from Dallas, IA, and is currently studying Agricultural Engineering (Land & Water Resources Option) at ISU. Amanda started working in Dr. Helmers’ lab during spring semester of this year.

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 well – starting next week, each intern will be sharing a guest blog post about their experiences over the course of the summer!

We also have four high school students that will be participating in the water resources internship program. They’ll be starting in June, so we’ll give them a shoutout in a few weeks when they’re officially on board.

Ann Staudt

Applications open for 2016 Water Resources Internship Program

It may be January, but we are already looking ahead to the summer months as we are actively in search of outstanding undergraduate students for our water resources summer internship program! Want to join Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! for the summer? We are looking for students that are energetic, enthusiastic, hard workers, with interests in agriculture and the environment, especially soil health and water quality!



The water resources internship program is based on campus at Iowa State University, but is not limited to ISU students – our program is open to undergraduate students from any institution across the country. In the past two summers, we’re worked with students from ISU, Hawkeye Community College, Grinnell College, Drake University, and the University of Georgia. This is a paid internship opportunity, with students having the opportunity to work up to 40 hours per week.

In the water resources internship program, each day is a new adventure!  Here’s a snapshot of how a water resources student intern might spend one week of their summer internship with us…


Monday: Morning staff meeting, followed by trip to ISU Northern Research Farm at Kanawha to collect water samples from suction lysimeters in cover crop plots.


Tuesday: Travel to a youth summer camp and help students learn all about soil + how to protect it.


Wednesday: Another day in the field… counting earthworm middens in side-by-side plots with and without cover crops.


Thursday: Outreach Event…Travel with the Conservation Station to a county fair; teach the hands-on, interactive Watershed Game to fairgoers of all ages!


Friday: Morning = soil processing in the lab, then help out with a new Water Rocks! video production in the afternoon!

Past participants in our internship program 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 and even been accepted into the Peace Corps.



Applications for the water resources internship program are open now through Monday, January 25.  Visit our 2016 Water Resources Internship Program page for additional details and application instructions!

Do you know an undergraduate student that would be a great fit? Send them our way – we are looking forward to a great year ahead!

Ann Staudt

Digging in to soil microbiology

NOTE: This guest blog post was written by Tiffany Eberhard, one of our summer interns with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks!.   Eberhard is starting her senior year at the University of Georgia, double majoring in Environmental Health Science and Anthropology.

“I’m going to Iowa for the summer for a water resource internship,” I told my friends in Georgia, the southern state I call home.
“Oh, the Potato State?” said my friend.
“No, the Corn State!” I replied.

Tiffany Blog Pic

Intern Tiffany Eberhard runs a titration as part of her soil respiration project in the new Sukup Hall Porous Media Lab.

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Ames in May, and obviously most of my friends didn’t either. The first night in Ames, there was a tornado spotted near the area and we had to take refuge in the basement of our apartment. I knew this was going to be an exciting summer from day one!

This was my first experience living outside of Athens, Georgia. It did not take long for me to predict what I would see on our long drives through the state: mostly corn and soybean farms. To someone not familiar with agriculture, this might sound, well, boring. And I thought the same until I spent more time observing and working in the fields. There is a quiet beauty to the slow growth of the crops. Starting out as a 2 inch tall seedling, and maturing to a corn plant with husks or soybean plants maturing with pretty purple flowers, these plants use natural resources to stay healthy. Natural resources and their important functions is a topic Water Rocks! teaches to youth throughout the state.

One of the most important natural resource in Iowa is soil. The top soil in Iowa is 1-2 feet deep! I was amazed at how black and rich it was compared to the Georgia red clay from my home. One of the first facts I learned was the vast number of organisms that live in the soil. One shovel of soil contains over 7 billion living creatures! This fact sparked my inquisition into more facts about microorganisms that call the soil their home. There is a whole world beneath our feet!

My project for the summer was to look at carbon dioxide respiration from microbes in the soil as an indicator for soil health. I began the project with a very limited understanding of soil microbiology and its importance, but as I learned about how the microbes respire CO₂ and the methods for measuring this CO₂, I began to unlock the mystery of microorganisms. Microbes in the soil eat decaying plant matter and provide nutrients from this matter to new plants as food. Without microbes, the plants would not be able to obtain their needed nutrients. The more microbes present in the soil, the healthier, on average, the soil. I worked on measuring the amount of carbon given off from different plots of soil, some with and some without cover crops. Data collection is still in progress, but hopefully we will have information in the future that supports previous data that cover crops correlate to more microbes in the soil and therefore, healthier soil.

Working with soil this summer and especially microbial activity in the soil has opened up a new interest for my future research and possible career. I want to delve deeper into soil microbiology to learn about the hidden world under us. My internship this summer gave me the opportunity to learn about not only Iowa’s rich soil but also about the life that we can’t see with our naked eye.

– Tiffany Eberhard