While most of us are thinking about Halloween costumes, family gatherings, and dare I say it – holiday shopping – a team of extension professionals in the North Central Region are already looking ahead to next summer.
The mentors for the Watershed Management Outreach and Research Internship Program are busy planning the internship program for summer 2023.
The project, led by John McMaine, Griffith Chair in Agriculture and Water Resources at South Dakota State University, is a Research and Extension Experience for Undergraduates (REEU). It is funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to help students from all backgrounds pursue careers in water resource management.
Water resource management is complex and professionals in the field need an understanding of agriculture, natural resources, communication, social sciences and economics, public health, and planning and project management to be successful. That said, currently there is little to no training available at the undergraduate level for individuals interested in watershed outreach and management roles.
“This program really aims to provide undergrads with exposure to the field of water resource management and extension in particular as an avenue of doing really meaningful work,” notes McMaine.
Students are placed at one of six participating universities across the North Central Region based on their interests and their preferences. Internships vary based on the location and the mentor they are placed with.
In 2022, interns focused on a variety of water-related topics and participated in a broad range of extension activities – from conducting water quality research, to creating educational materials, to attending and presenting at farm field days. Interns helped create accessible and engaging water quality resources – such as creating Spanish language materials encouraging landowners to test their wells – in Iowa, developed an interactive map of a rain garden to increase green infrastructure literacy in Illinois, and assisted with water quality sampling at local urban reservoir and attend watershed management group meetings in Missouri as just a few examples.
In addition to working one-on-one with their faculty mentor, interns also gathered virtually each week to hear from experts on a range of water and professional topics, worked on a central group project on a regional water challenge and gathered in-person at a peer learning summit.
In 2022 the interns gathered at the Climate Intersections Conference in Duluth where they presented a poster on their work over the summer and shared the work, they had done over the summer with one another and had career focused conversations about possible fulfilling careers in water resource management.
“This experience helped me learn the importance of networking and how to speak to stakeholders,” notes Myranda Hentges, a Watershed Management Interns in summer 2022 who was based at South Dakota State University. “I gained an appreciation of the importance of water quality research and outreach. A career in extension seems very likely for me after this internship. My dream job would be working in the agricultural field and continuing to find management practices that benefit both the farmer and the environment.”
The Watershed Management Research and Outreach Undergraduate Internship Program helps students from all backgrounds gain valuable experience that will help you pursue future careers in watershed management. Extension faculty at seven different institutions mentor interns over the summer.
The team is working to make 2023 as much of a success as 2022. The application for 2023 is already open and the mentors plan to make decisions and start finalizing plans early in the new year.
“Any undergraduate student from any institution or field of study can apply,” notes McMaine. “I think this is a great opportunity for students who aren’t based at land-grant universities to get exposure to extension and perhaps also explore a new area of the Midwest. You don’t have to stay in your state – you can travel somewhere new and explore new opportunities. I think that is really exciting.”