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March 28, 2017 at 6:59 pm

Senior Finds Adventure, Hands-on Science in Alaska Internship

Danielle Butts' internship in Kodiak, Alaska, provided adventure and education

Danielle Butts’ internship in Kodiak, Alaska, provided adventure and education

by Kristin M. Distel

“My internship taught me about my skills and interests, and it took me outside of my familiar environment in Ohio,” says Danielle Butts, a senior in Wildlife and Conservation Biology, who spent summer of 2016 completing an exciting internship at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Kodiak, Alaska.

The refuge emphasizes research on birds and bears in particular, with a larger focus on natural resources as a whole.

Butts landed the internship with the help of Dr. Shawn Kuchta and Dr. Willem Roosenburg, who directed her to the Texas A&M job board, where many environmental ecology jobs and internships are listed. “To my knowledge,” she says, “I am the first OHIO student to do this internship.”

Campfire in front of water

The campers attended nature camps on nearby islands

Teaching Hands-On Science to Campers

During her time at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, she worked at an environmental education camp for children who ranged in age from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“The camp changes it theme every three years; this year we focused on the theme of natural cycles, and we taught a different cycle each day. For example, we taught soil cycles, the salmon life cycle, how to recycle, and so on.”

Butts also notes that each week was full of adventures and activities to keep the campers interested in the subject of natural resources. Many of their activities were outdoor-based, including games, hikes, nature photography, fishing, and even an archeological dig.

Brown bear

Butts’s internship brought her up-close with Alaskan wildlife

“We also focused on terminology and taught the campers at least one new vocabulary word each day,” she explains. “We always made it fun for them, though, and emphasized hands-on science.”

Salmon, Camouflage, and a Game of Hide-and-Seek

All the games that the campers and camp counselors played were related to the cycle they were learning about that day, she explains.

“In studying the salmon life cycle,” Butts says, “the kids start as eggs, go upstream, run, get tagged by a ‘bear,’ and then they headed to the ocean, where a fisherman was trying to catch them. It was like a game of tag. They learned about the salmon life cycle through songs we made up, too.”

Butts and the rest of the volunteers also taught the campers about camouflage through a game of hide and seek. “It all took place outside. The kids had to hide, but they had to be able to see the person who was looking for them. It was awesome and a lot of fun.”

‘Adventure Camps’

Butts was also fortunate to learn about the community of Kodiak and to work alongside the people who live there. She notes that many people who lived on the island volunteered to help at the camp.

Some of the activities included taking a floatplane or a boat to wildlife refuges and remote villages, where native Alaskans helped the students and counselors set up camp for two to three days.

Alaskan landscape and mountains

Butts’s internship included hikes, nature photography, fishing, and an archeological dig in Kodiak

These island-based “adventure camps” were reserved for seventh- and eighth-grade campers, Butts notes.

“We would set up a shelter, go fishing, take long hikes, practice plant identification, and go bird-watching. We also taught the kids how to build fires and set up a tent, and even how to make their own food. This was definitely my favorite camp,” she remarks.

Taking OHIO with Her to Alaska

Butts found that the outdoor recreation coursework and ecology classes she has taken here at OHIO were helpful in preparing her for the responsibilities of her internship.

“At OHIO I have learned about environmental interpretation and education, as well as animal ecology. I learned about salmon and carbon cycles and gained a general understanding of the way cycles work. It’s very complex, and I needed to understand it myself in order to explain it to the campers.”

“I Learned from This Internship What I Want to Do”

One of the most rewarding aspects of her internship, she notes, was seeing that the students truly grasped the material she was helping to teach at the camp. “Students kept daily journals that they shared with us, and their journal entries indicated that they really understood,” Butts explains.

Butts credits the internship with helping her hone her interests and showing her a world outside of Ohio, Shown here eating lobster.

Butts credits the internship with helping her hone her interests and showing her a world outside of Ohio.

Butts notes that she also enjoyed the internship because she was immersed in an environment and lifestyle completely different from the one she has known in Ohio. She remarks that she learned a great deal from all the people she met, both students and native Alaskans.

Perhaps most importantly, the internship helped Butts refine her interests.

“Alaska is where I became interested in birds, which is what I want to study now. I also like the idea of working in some sort of fish management and in sustainability more generally. It was a great experience. I learned from this internship what I want to do.”

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