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Interning at the Prairie Ridge Ecostation

December 5, 2014

The following post was written by Terra Meares, citizen science intern at Prairie Ridge for Fall 2014.  Thanks for all your hard work, Terra!

IMG_0087A crucial component of every academic endeavor is the pursuit of the ideal internship; one that piques your interest, develops your skill set, and prepares you for the “real world” after college. When looking into internship opportunities, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences was my first choice, largely due to my own fond childhood memories of field trips, but also because of the academic and research achievements of the Museum. The best part of the internship application process was that the internship coordinator at the Museum asks about the students’ interests and educational goals in order to direct them to the appropriate department.  That is how I first learned about the citizen science internship at Prairie Ridge Ecostation.

Currently I am a senior at North Carolina State University majoring in Plant and Soil Science with a concentration in Crop Biotechnology and a minor in Environmental Toxicology. The features of the Prairie Ridge Ecostation conformed perfectly to the experiences I needed to obtain to prepare me for a career in Environmental Science. Prairie Ridge Ecostation is a part of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences that focuses on wildlife research and educational understanding of the natural environment. Prairie Ridge began in 2004 and encompasses 45 acres of Piedmont prairie, forest, ponds, and a stream. The impressive Outdoor Classroom boasts a variety of Green Features such as water harvesting, dual-flush toilets, and photovoltaic panels. The building itself is made of parallel strand lumber, recycled materials, and an abundance of Green Design features. They also have a really cool wind turbine and Nature Play Space!

The days at Prairie Ridge were busy and eventful, not just for the engaging employees and volunteers, but for the ample wildlife as well. From nature stories, to active research, camera traps, and Citizen Science Saturdays, there is always fun to be had at Prairie Ridge and you will walk away with a better understanding of the natural world that surrounds us!

Through my internship at Prairie Ridge, I have had the opportunity to become involved in a wide range of exciting projects. My primary assignment at Prairie Ridge was to design a Citizen Science Saturday walk, an educational workshop, and an educational program for K-12 students, and I chose to focus these on pollinators. The development of these programs involved independent research, assisting with citizen science programs, and constructing appropriate materials such as handouts, activity sheets, and field guides. In the spring I will have the chance to help lead the programs I developed and evaluate their effectiveness. I will also be involved in the planning and development of a future pollinator garden at Prairie Ridge.  Participating in Citizen Science allowed me to gain hands-on fieldwork and data collection experience I lacked in my academics.

Some of the other interesting tasks that I performed through my internship were inputting data and assisting with the camera traps. Moving the camera traps was quite enjoyable, but the best part was analyzing the images. It was surprising to see the abundance of wildlife that wanders through the area! Another project that I really loved working on was sorting plant slides by phylogeny. In fact, throughout the fall semester I have enjoyed my internship at Prairie Ridge so much that I intend to continue my work as a volunteer!

The Prairie Ridge Ecostation was a fantastic internship opportunity that provided me with a wide range of skills and experiences that I will be able to apply to any future career in Environmental Science. I highly recommend Prairie Ridge as a place for students to intern, volunteer, or even visit to take advantage of the exciting events held here throughout the year. This is the perfect place to learn, explore, and gain real hands-on experience for students in a wide variety of studies. I am delighted to be able to continue assisting and stay involved in the projects as a volunteer, and I am excited for future endeavors!

Photo by Chris Goforth

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