Growing Hope: Community Outreach through Gardening

Emily Guilu Murphy, Wesleyan University 

This summer I had the privilege to work with Growing Hope as their garden intern. Growing Hope is a non-profit started in Ypsilanti “dedicated to helping people improve their lives and communities through gardening and increasing access to healthy food.” (Source:

Mondays: Propagation and Watering

9:00AM Hoop House

In “Kathy,” our cathedral style hoop house, I start my mornings following a propagation schedule. At Growing Hope we seed most of our plants in trays to help us to control the seeds’ environment like soil nutrients and moisture content. This increases the chances that the seeds will germinate and eventually reach maturity.

Tray when first seeded; tray after about a week and a half

Tray when first seeded; tray after about a week and a half

We thin trays by making sure each cell only has one plant in it to decrease competition for water and nutrients

We thin trays by making sure each cell only has one plant in it to decrease competition for water and nutrients

Healthy and developed roots with root fibers (the white fuzzy part on the roots)

Healthy and developed roots with root fibers (the white fuzzy part on the roots)

12:00PM Growing Hope Farm

Growing Hope has nine different growing areas to keep track of! The hoop house with all the seedlings must get watered several times a day to keep the seeds wet to germinate. Some areas need more water than others like the hoop house and outside farm. Others don’t need water every day like the herb garden with hardier crops.

Dry and wet soil

Dry and wet soil

When watering, make sure to water long enough for the plants’ deepest roots to absorb the water. You can see in this plant’s cell, the top is moist, but the bottom is still dry.

When watering, make sure to water long enough for the plants’ deepest roots to absorb the water. You can see in this plant’s cell, the top is moist, but the bottom is still dry.

(Left to right) 1. Oscillating sprinklers (most inefficient method due to high rate of evaporation) 2. Soaker hose (water seeps out through hose) 3. Drip irrigation (most efficient, only drips at certain intervals along the drip tape)

(Left to right) 1. Oscillating sprinklers (most inefficient method due to high rate of evaporation) 2. Soaker hose (water seeps out through hose) 3. Drip irrigation (most efficient, only drips at certain intervals along the drip tape)

Tuesdays: Community Outreach

9:00AM Ypsilanti Resident Home

One of my favorite opportunities working with Growing Hope was the opportunity to learn and practice actual community building strategies. In the future I hope to promote community-based solutions to environmental/climate justice and public health issues. Growing Hope showed me what an organization oriented around community-based food justice solutions might look like.

Growing Hope’s Home Vegetable Program installs raised beds for gardening in low-income Ypsilanti residents’ homes at no cost. I got to get out in the community and go on several mid-season site visits assisting with any planting, pest, or weed problems they had and connecting with people through their gardens. It was impactful to see how Growing Hope, the gardens, and their harvest made a difference in residents’ lives!

Bianca and I when we re-seeded her garden bed; Maria and her fresh harvest of radishes and peppers

Bianca and I when we re-seeded her garden bed; Maria and her fresh harvest of radishes and peppers

2:00PM Growing Hope Center

Another one of the ways Growing Hope engages the community is through hosting social events like Tour de Fresh, a community bike tour of Ypsilanti’s community gardens. I assisted with the project planning and was able practice community outreach by designing posters, contacting community members, and designing social media posts.

Wednesdays: Volunteers and Environmental Justice

9:00AM Growing Hope Farm

Another way I got to know the community was through Growing Hope’s volunteers who are often from the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area. Through co-leading volunteer groups in farm tasks, I got talk about Growing Hope’s mission as a food justice non-profit and give tours of Growing Hope’s urban farm.


10:00 AM Growing Hope Farm

We did a lot of weeding so I became familiar with the farm’s common weeding tools.

Left to right 1.      Garden/flower hoe- good for loosening soil and taking out weeds and old plants, not good for weeding in between plants 2.      Action/hula/stirrup hoe- convenient for weeding, uses a back and forth motion 3.      Collinear hoe- good small weeds and precise weeding; just scrape the surface to disrupt their roots and the weeds will die 4.      Fork- can be used to pull up weeds roots so they are easier to pull out without breaking 5.      Garden rake- used to rake up weeds, has wider teeth 6.      Fine rake- used if there are many small weeds

Left to right

1.      Garden/flower hoe- good for loosening soil and taking out weeds and old plants, not good for weeding in between plants

2.      Action/hula/stirrup hoe- convenient for weeding, uses a back and forth motion

3.      Collinear hoe- good small weeds and precise weeding; just scrape the surface to disrupt their roots and the weeds will die

4.      Fork- can be used to pull up weeds roots so they are easier to pull out without breaking

5.      Garden rake- used to rake up weeds, has wider teeth

6.      Fine rake- used if there are many small weeds

11:00AM Growing Hope Farm

I have a strong interest in environmental justice and ways to further address it through dialogue or work. I created a working definition of environmental justice with help from the volunteers to be able to easily explain what it is: environmental justice is ensuring and protecting the right to a healthy physical environment and equitable accessibility to the environment regardless of socioeconomic status or other limiting social factors. Through these conversations I was reminded to avoid off-putting academic jargon by meeting people at their level and focusing on their lived experiences with the environment to learn from them.

Thursday: Staff Meetings/Non-Profit Management

9:00AM Growing Hope Center

At staff meetings I go to learn about what other staff were working on because Growing Hope has so many moving parts and projects. I otherwise would not have known the extent of Growing Hope’s work like running the farmers market and mobile farm stand or the challenges of running a non-profit including economic development, grant writing, staffing, financial audits, project planning, setting and assessing deliverables, and more.

12:00PM Lunch

Growing Hope’s work culture shares similarities with other environmental non-profits, but is also very distinct. Although Growing Hope staff gets so much done, there never seems to be enough time or resources. However, I was very lucky to work in a place where the staff know each other and promoted a kind and caring work environment.

Christopher, the farm assistant, and I with the bouquets we made; my supervisor Bee Ayer, farm manager and far superior bouquet arranger

Christopher, the farm assistant, and I with the bouquets we made; my supervisor Bee Ayer, farm manager and far superior bouquet arranger

Huron River Watershed Council: Connecting People with the Environment

Trina Dhar, Barnard College


This summer, I interned at the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC), a local nonprofit organization that is dedicated to protecting the Huron River located in southeastern Michigan.

A large aspect of my job was going outside and collecting data. I joined the creek walking interns to walk along tributaries of the Huron River. We collected data including water temperature, pH level, water conductivity, rate of flow and more, which are all used to determine the health of the tributaries. I also participated in the Water Quality Monitoring program, to collect samples of water in the Huron River Watershed to be tested for bacteria, nutrients and background chemistry. Going outside to collect data allowed me to directly interact with and create a connection with the river, the tributaries and the land around them. This gave me an even greater appreciation of my job at the HWRC in helping to protect the watershed.

In the HRWC office, I was working on outreach education projects for the residents in the Huron River Watershed. It is crucial to connect the people living in the watershed to the natural areas around them so that they can also gain a greater appreciation of the areas and be more aware of their impact on the natural areas. One of the very first projects that I was working on was researching models for how other organizations have already involved community members in the design, building and maintenance of rain gardens. My findings will be used to educate and connect community members in the city of Wixom to a rain garden and other green infrastructure practices that will be implemented by the HRWC next year. I hope that the involvement of the community members will encourage people in Wixom to be more open to installing additional rain gardens in their communities for the benefit of the river and water quality.


Another outreach project that I participated in was tabling for a booth in some of the Metroparks “Summer Fun” events. For these events, groups of youth from Southeast Michigan were provided free transportation to come out to the park and participate in outdoor activities. I demonstrated bugs from the river to the kids and helped them learn a little bit more about these awesome organisms. This was one of my favorite experiences interning at the HRWC because it allowed me to directly encourage kids to interact with and connect with the organisms of the Huron River. Their eagerness in learning about the bugs made me feel like I was making a true impact by increasing their awareness of the organisms in the environment.

Through this internship, I realized that it is crucial to connect ourselves and others to nature in order to fulfill the larger mission of most environmental organizations, including the HRWC, in helping to keep the environment protected. My experience at the Huron River Watershed Council has further inspired my desire to connect people in urban areas to nature, such as in New York City, my hometown. I hope to continue to catalyze the connection between people and the nature around them in order to increase their understanding of the environment and increase their desire to protect the environment.


Sierra Club in Detroit: Rain Gardens to the Rescue

Ryan Anderson, Brown University

Upon arriving at my internship, I was very excited to see what opportunities lay ahead of me. I was particularly interested in seeing what working in a small office for an NGO could look like, and I have not been disappointed by the plethora of projects offered to me. The project that I dedicate most of my efforts to is the Rain Gardens to the Rescue program. This program is a collaboration effort between Sierra Club, Friends of the Rouge, and Keep Growing Detroit, and has been helping residents plant rain gardens in their communities. Since the project’s inception, one of its main goals has been to protect the Great Lakes from climate change impacts. As warmer climates will lead to more intense storms, it is critical that Detroit invest in Green Infrastructure projects that will manage stormwater effectively. One such project is the use of rain gardens to capture stormwater that runs off of impervious structures such as roofs and streets. Rain gardens are particularly helpful for Detroit as its combined sewer system has resulted in the dumping of untreated wastewater into local rivers during large rain events. Furthermore, cleanup costs and the costs associated with the upkeep of aging infrastructure incentivized the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to offer “green credits” to citizens who reduce that amount of impervious pavement on their property.

The internship kicked off with a bus tour of previously planted rain gardens in Detroit, which gave this year’s rain garden recipients an opportunity to see how successful rain gardens operate. The next step of the process consisted of site visits where I helped residents estimate the size and location of their future garden, and the rest of the process included attending a series of workshops that guided recipients through the native plant selection, garden design, and rain barrel construction processes. Further, rain garden recipients are encouraged to educate other Detroiters on how to build upon the network of green infrastructure by building their own rain gardens. This program provided me the opportunity to engage with community members throughout the rain garden process, and allowed me to learn more about the people of Detroit as well as about how relationships are built and maintained within the community.

In addition to the Rain Gardens to the Rescue program, I worked on a variety of projects including presentations, reports, and social media schedules. These projects required significant amounts of time conducting research on everything from reforestation as a green infrastructure solution to the impacts of proposed budget cuts to the Great Lakes Restorative Initiative. Much of this research was supplemented with community engagement efforts. From rain garden workshops, green infrastructure tours and several Detroit City Council Green Task Force meetings, I could garner a diverse understanding of the ways that different green groups are working toward Detroit’s goal of becoming one of the greenest cities in the country. Also, I had the opportunity to attend several Detroit City Council meetings where I was able to witness the political process first hand. At these meetings, Detroit residents have the opportunity to speak before the council, express their grievances, and request the support of their elected official.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I had to learn about the ways one can integrate research with community engagement. My passions lie at the heart of the intersection between hard and social sciences, and I wish to bring an interdisciplinary perspective to all work that I do. Specifically, this internship taught me new ways to think about green infrastructure, its importance, and its implementation, and I am extremely interested in continuing my education on these matters in the future.

Legacy Land Conservation: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Land Conservation

Malia Molina, Carleton College

It was three days before my second summer with the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program and I was excited to say the least. Not only to see the friends I had made last year, but also to once again be a part of a program that so seamlessly integrated all the facets of my own varied interests in environmental and social justice issues. As I waited for my flight from Minneapolis to Detroit, I scrolled anxiously through my emails to see if I had received any internship updates from my host organization, Legacy Land Conservancy. There were none so far, other than the emails from the past few weeks informing me about my internship position and who I would be reporting to. To be honest, I was a little confused at first about what all the position title entailed: “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Intern”. Seemed pretty fancy to me, but I guess I would just have to wait and see to find out my purpose at Legacy.

Fast forward to two weeks later. My first week included many introductions to not only the staff members, but to the organization as a whole. I had literally no idea what land conservation was, and it was my mission within those first few days to try to understand how that fit in with the environmental movement. In order to do this, I scheduled multiple interviews with various staff members in addition to reading through all the communications and media material that was available to me online or in physical format.

After two weeks, I finally understood what land conservation meant, at least on a surface level, so here it goes: Legacy Land Conservancy is a small, non-profit organization that services Washtenaw and Jackson counties in southeast Michigan. Their work is focused on conserving land properties through conservation easements. Basically, a conservation easement is an agreement between the current property owner and the land conservancy, whereby the land’s development rights are donated/purchased by the land conservancy. In doing so, the land conservancy assumes multiple responsibilities for the land, including upholding the restrictions of the easement and maintaining a working relationship with the property owner(s). At this point it’s pretty self-explanatory where land conservation fits in with the environmental movement: by conserving these spaces future generations will still also be able to enjoy the resources that we have access to now.

In tandem with learning about Legacy’s missions and goals, I also conducted the other part of my internship as a DEI intern. This entailed that I not only go through the organization’s communications and media materials, but to also evaluate the organization itself in terms of how diverse, equitable, and inclusive it is currently. Now, this was an interesting position to be in: a twenty-something year old still in her undergraduate career, interning at an established non-profit organization, evaluating the diversity of its board, staff, and audience… It was a daunting role to fill, to say the least. During this time, I went to staff and board meetings and read through hundreds of pages from reports on the diversity of environmental organizations. The experience was an intense one, as I created a presentation and wrote a report on my findings and recommendations for the organization. At first, I was skeptical about the work I was doing. Was I saying the “right” things? Was I being too critical, or not critical enough? But after I presented in front of the Development Committee and staff, I felt reassured in what I had to offer. After those presentations, I wrote a report titled “Incorporating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: An Assessment of Current Efforts and Recommendations for Legacy Land Conservancy”. Rest assured, it was not as formal as it seemed but it did provide me with a lot of insight on approaching future employers’ and organizations’ efforts at making the work environment diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

Altogether, it was intriguing for me to see another side of conservation that is not necessarily focused on the preservation of these spaces through the exclusion of humans. Not only this, but I was also able to offer my own insights to an entire organization and, frankly, that was awesome experience.

The Great Lakes Commission: Creating Resources for Source Water Protection

Jannice Newson, University of Missouri


This summer, I spent my time as an intern at the Great Lakes Commission (GLC), working on their Blue Accounting Program’s Source Water Initiative under program manager Nicole Zacharda. The Source Water Initiative is one of the six projects that currently comprise the Blue Accounting information system. This project looks to secure a safe and sustainable domestic water supply through collaboration among water professionals in the Great Lakes basin and St. Lawrence River The initiative currently has five goals and several metrics under evaluation to determine how to best measure progress toward source water protection goals in the region.

Source Water Library


The Blue Accounting website is still under construction, so the complete aggregate of information on the Source Water Initiative is not yet available. Upon completion, there will be a Source Water Library for anyone to utilize and find relevant information regarding source water protection in the Great Lakes. Each resource in the library will fall into one of the following categories: data, maps, tools, programs, partnerships, plans, reports, funding opportunities, projects, best practices, jobs, training, success stories, and articles.

During my stint with the GLC, I started to compile, organize, and describe resources for the Source Water Library. This library will be searchable by keyword and filtered by the aforementioned categories. I also created a form for members of the Source Water Work Group to fill out with any recommendations for resources that should be included in the library.


Infographics are a great way to convey ideas and processes in a concise manner. I have created two infographics using Piktochart pertaining to source water. One of the infographics connects source water terminology used in the United States and in Canada in order facilitate binational communication. It also includes community water system size categories and statistics on source water in the U.S. The other infographic is a general overview of the Source Water Initiative. It includes definitions for source water and source water protection, draft goals and metrics, and a proposed value statement. I hope that these graphics will break down barriers to binational communication on source water and explain the purpose and trajectory of the Blue Accounting Source Water Initiative.

Infographics may be viewed at

Brown Bag Lunch

To wrap up the summer, Yorick Oden-Plants, my fellow DDCSP intern, and I did a presentation on our last day at the GLC. We talked about each of our respective projects and what we did collectively with DDCSP.

Source Water Webinar and Erie P Market Meeting

Blue Accounting Source Water Webinar - July 13, 2017

Prior to the webinar, the GLC met with the Source Water Work Group and came up with draft goals for the Source Water Initiative. During the webinar, the Work Group voted on those goals, and whether to keep them or change them. The workgroup also voted on proposed metrics tied to these goals and made suggestions for additional metrics. The menu items for the website were introduced, as well potential pilot communities to administer services to.

Erie P Market Meeting - July 17, 2017

The Erie P Market is an approach for reducing phosphorus in the Western Lake Erie Basin through water quality trading. Industrial and municipal facilities purchase credits from agricultural operations using conservation practices. By purchasing these credits, these industries and municipalities remain in compliance with their pollution permits, agricultural operations have a new source of revenue, and phosphorus entering the basin is limited. The GLC met with the Erie P Market Trading Advisory Group to discuss options for contracting and templates.

So Now What

I have enjoyed my time spent at the Great Lakes Commission. I have learned much more about this organization and the extent of work done here to protect the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. I appreciate the opportunity to have worked with Nicole, Victoria, Dan, and Ned on the Blue Accounting Program’s Source Water Initiative and I cannot wait to see where the project goes!


Sierra Club in Detroit: Community Engagement, Activism, Citizenship & a Green Future

Marvin Bell, Amherst College


These past two summers as a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar have encouraged me to examine the various ways that communities in Michigan interact with the environment. In the midst of this examination, I learned about some of the most pressing environmental concerns of our age, I travelled to Flint, Michigan - the site of one of the nation’s clearest examples of environmental injustice - and I witnessed firsthand what community-based grassroots activism looks like in Detroit. All of these experiences, though, would have been difficult to grasp if I did not have the knowledge that interning at the Sierra Club endowed me with. This internship allowed me to shadow some of Detroit’s most inspiring environmental champions; it allowed me to be front and center at various Detroit City Council Green Task Force Meetings to learn about the city’s green infrastructure plans; lastly, it allowed me to engage with community leaders who are simultaneously committed to making Detroit one of the greenest cities in America and committed to ensuring that they continue to protect the Great Lakes.   

Ryan and I touring Detroit’s Green Alley, July 27th, 2017

Ryan and I touring Detroit’s Green Alley, July 27th, 2017

 Every moment this summer was a learning opportunity. It was in these moments that I learned most about the ultimate goal of the Sierra Club Great Lakes, Great Communities program: to restore and protect the Great Lakes, one of the nation’s most precious treasures. Every program sponsored and every meeting attended worked towards this end. One of the ways that the Club has organized to include more Detroit residents in the fight to restore and protect the Great Lakes is through the ‘Rain Garden’s to the Rescue’ program. This program – a joint collaboration between Sierra Club, Friends of the Rouge, and Keep Growing Detroit – awards rain gardens to applicants who express interest and who are also community leaders. Rain gardens allow rainwater runoff from impervious areas like roofs, driveways, and parking lots to be absorbed. In so doing, rain gardens play a vital role in assuaging sewage stress wrought on by stormwater during intense storms. By growing native plants and landscaping with rain gardens, residents are able to protect the Great Lakes from stormwater pollution. Sierra Club allowed me to be present for a significant portion of the Rain Garden’s to the Rescue program, which included actively participating in rain garden workshops where recipients learned how to construct and design their rain gardens.  One of the workshops involved the assembly and distribution of rain barrels as well.

Ryan and I on our first Rain Garden tour, July 15th, 2017

Ryan and I on our first Rain Garden tour, July 15th, 2017

This summer I have been equipped with the skills that are needed to facilitate Great Lakes activism. My internship with the Sierra club has allowed me to put into practice all that I learned from the various DDCSP seminars, professional developments; effectively allowing me to interact with communities in a way that constantly positions me as a learner. Because of this internship I have been able to further clarify the role that I can play in helping to assuage environmental degradation and how I can better involve my own community in the process. In the meantime, I hope to continue to learn about the unique role that activism and community-based leadership can play in building a just transition towards an environmental movement that is both accessible to all and that addresses the concerns of disadvantaged communities. I hope to continue to use my passion for environmental justice to develop sustainable policy-level solutions; in this capacity, I aim to mitigate the adverse affects of stratified economic, social, and political policies on those most susceptible to environmental harm.

NOAA: Diving Deeper into Research on Invasive Mussels in Lake Huron

Jenny Par, Loyola University Chicago

Fig. 5. Using RStudio to create different graphs to help visualize my results

Fig. 5. Using RStudio to create different graphs to help visualize my results

This summer, I worked at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) with Dr. Ashley Elgin and Dr. Ed Rutherford. This was my second year working as an intern at NOAA GLERL.  In both years, my project focused on invasive dreissenid mussels (i.e., quagga and zebra mussels).  The colonization of both quagga and zebra mussels in the Great Lakes has profoundly impacted the Great Lakes ecosystem. They have out-competed other native mussel species and changed the nutrient dynamics and the food web. Therefore, it is important to gather as much information about these mussels in order to understand their impacts and improve management strategies.

For my project, I analyzed dreissenid mussels that were hand-collected by divers during Summer 2010 along transects at 2, 3, 4-meter depths in Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron. These samples were originally collected as part of a study led by Dr. Scott Peacor from Michigan State University and Dr. Steven Francoeur from Eastern Michigan University.  Their goal was to look at spatial and temporal patterns of macroscopic benthic primary producer biomass, production and composition in Saginaw Bay.

 I sorted and identified the mussels to species (quagga or zebra mussels) using distinguishing shell features (Fig. 1).  I then measured the sizes of the mussel by first imaging them on flatbed scanner (Fig. 2). The images of the mussels were then analyzed using a custom IDL (Interactive Data Language) program called “Zebra Pro”. The program outputs the size, length, and width of each mussel, plus the total count of quagga and zebra mussels in each sample.

Fig 1. Sorting quagga and zebra mussels

Fig 1. Sorting quagga and zebra mussels

Fig 2. Mussels lined up on flatbed scanner for imaging

Fig 2. Mussels lined up on flatbed scanner for imaging

Towards the fourth week of the program, I finished up the mussel scans and started my data analysis. I would definitely have to say that this was the hardest part of the project for me. Since I don’t have a lot of background in statistics, I had a difficult time figuring out what statistical analysis I would need to use to help answer my research questions. But, the process of analyzing my data made me feel like I was getting closer to becoming a researcher.

Last summer, I mainly focused on analyzing the densities and relative proportions of quagga and zebra mussels over depth and time. However, this year I looked for significant trends in the length distributions of each species.  I found that quagga mussels at Transect 13 had similar length distribution patterns throughout the months, where the highest peak for the months falls within 15 to 17 mm (Fig. 3). As for transect 14, there’s a slight decrease in the peak length for quaggas. On the other hand, looking at the length distributions for zebra mussels, the highest peak doesn’t always fall within a similar size interval, but there is a distinct peak for each month. It is also important to note that there are significantly fewer zebra mussels than quagga mussels.  Due to the low number of zebra mussels, this could be a reason why there is more variation in their length distribution for each month.

I also looked for evidence of Round Goby predation on dreissenids, as inspired by a recent paper from Foley et al. (2017. Journal of Great Lake Research 43:121-131), which analyzed the relationships between Round Goby abundances, size distributions, diet contents, and diet selectivity along with mussel length distributions in Saginaw Bay. The sites where the samples Foley et al. collected were in the same general proximity as the transects I studied. I started out by comparing my mussel size distribution data to that reported by Foley et al. (Fig. 4). The top row of their figure shows that mussels collected from the environment exhibit a bimodal distribution throughout the months, indicating that there are two distinct size groups of dreissenid mussels. In contrast, the bottom row of the figure shows that mussels found in Round Goby diets are mostly smaller than 10mm, indicating a preference for smaller mussels. However, my data shows unimodal distributions for mussels collected from May to August from Transects 13 & 14 (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Length distributions of quagga and zebra mussels from Saginaw Bay by month in 2010.  Mussels were pooled across depths

Fig. 3. Length distributions of quagga and zebra mussels from Saginaw Bay by month in 2010.  Mussels were pooled across depths

One possible explanation for the absence of the smaller peak of mussels at my sites could be that Round Gobies are consuming them, which could potentially be a mechanism for the declines observed in the Saginaw Bay mussel population since the 1990’s.  One way to investigate this in a future study would be to conduct a field experiment using Round Goby exclosures, and track how mussel size distributions change over the season.  

Fig. 4. Length distributions of dreissenids collected from the environment (via PONAR) and observed in round goby diets. Figure reproduced from Foley et al. 2017

Fig. 4. Length distributions of dreissenids collected from the environment (via PONAR) and observed in round goby diets. Figure reproduced from Foley et al. 2017

Although there were many times I was completely frustrated and confused about my data, I would immediately become encouraged and motivated again once I was able to fix one of the problems. This summer, I learned the power of statistical analysis and the importance of critical interpretation of scientific papers. Through this whole process, I felt like I experienced what it truly meant to be a researcher. In a way, this research made me excited for my future research projects.

In addition, having mentors that guided me through my project was extremely beneficial. It was comforting to know that whenever I become baffled over my data, I could turn to Dr. Elgin or Dr. Rutherford for some guidance. After being exposed to the successes and challenges of conducting research during this internship, I now have a clearer vision of what I want to do in the future.

Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner: Gardening for Water Conservation

Ryan Nelson, Wesleyan University

Like most kids, I was fascinated with water. From hosting car window raindrop drag races on road trips with my siblings, to spending every summer weekday at the pool (my mom called it her daycare-in-disguise), to reverting the back yard into mud by treating it like a slip-in-slide after every large rain, I couldn’t stop thinking about water.



Nowadays, water is still at the forefront of my attention, but for entirely different reasons. Because water is so readily-available in the United States, we don’t think about our complicated water usage, specifically about our water quality and maintenance systems. Even as an environmental science and engineering major, before this summer when I thought about water problems, I only considered the problems and damage induced by water shortages. Except for one flash-flood I’d lived through, I had spent almost no time thinking about the problems created by excess water. These difficulties range from short-term back yard flooding to cancer-inducing mold, to extreme home damage and death in worst-case scenarios.

In Michigan, the Water Resource’s Commissioner (formerly the Drain Commissioner) is the individual tasked with alleviating the problems associated with too much water. Many of these potential problems stem from something so abundant we almost never think about it: concrete. Most concrete is impervious, meaning that when water lands on concrete it pools or travels down the slope, eventually travelling into drains and finally rivers. While travelling, this water picks up non-point contaminants such as motor oil, E. coli from animal feces, and various other sources, which eventually pollute rivers. The volume of water which currently flows is also much higher than before humans placed concrete. Before, plants and soils would absorb some of the water and help water percolate into the ground, preventing it from entering the above ground water system. Concrete does not allow water to pass through, increasing volume. This increase is a problem because higher volumes of water lead to increased erosion of stream and riverbanks.

Most of my time working for the Water Resources Commissioner this summer has been spent working to alleviate these river pollution and erosion problems through the usage of rain gardens under my mentor, Catie Wytychak. Rain gardens are like normal gardens except they’re planted with only plants native to Michigan, as these plants help rain gardens serve their purpose of holding, filtering, and draining large amounts of water into the groundwater system.

An example Rain garden in Washtenaw County.

An example Rain garden in Washtenaw County.

Just like normal gardens, Rain gardens need a large amount of maintenance. One of my favorite jobs over the summer was working at and leading youth volunteer days at the county-operated rain gardens, in which groups of ten or more awesome kids from the local YMCA worked to maintain the gardens. They helped spread mulch, water, and even got to experience every kid’s dream job, weeding. Shockingly, even to me, weeding is not fun on its own. Weeding with a group of ten+ students, on the other hand, is incredibly entertaining. From the kid that swore on the “absolute fact” that dinosaurs were still roaming some parts of the Earth, to the elementary schoolers with more dramatic love lives than Taylor Swift, to the kids that spent two hours arguing over Marvel vs DC superheroes, it’s impossible to be more entertained while working than while working around kids.

While maintaining the gardens is extremely important, measuring the effectiveness of the gardens is equally crucial. Another one of my jobs was to conduct and produce a report on the impact of rain gardens on the Arbor Oaks neighborhood, which has a history of heavy flooding problems. This process included reading the master’s project which instigated the Arbor Oaks Rain Gardens design, creating the survey with Catie, knocking on 50+ houses, and finally assessing the survey’s results. After five days of door knocking, I developed an immunity to large, barking dogs and a tolerance for having doors slammed in my face.

In addition to this work, I also became a Master Rain Gardener after designing a rain garden, learned to classify soils (an invaluable skill for my future in agriculture), wrote brochures, assisted with Huron River Day, developed excellent relationships with my mentors, and absorbed as much knowledge as possible from every given task.

I had an absolute blast this summer. My mentors helped me understand both the individual pieces and the big picture of storm water management and helped me develop a useful set of tools for later use in life. I’d like to thank Catie Wytychak for being an extremely welcoming, helpful, and knowledgeable mentor. I’d also like to thank Deborah Shad, Harry Sheehan, and Evan Pratt for helping me understand the inner workings of the office and consider future career options. I’d like to thank my program coordinators Kafi Laramore-Josey and Beatriz Canas for fitting me with this excellent internship, and Dr. Dorceta Taylor for the amazing opportunity to participate in Doris Duke Conservation Scholars.

Michigan League of Conservation Voters: Protecting Communities through Advocacy

Danielle Moni-Zo'obo, Hamilton College

As the start of my internship at the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (MLCV) loomed ahead of me, I was both nervous and excited to intern for an organization whose work coincided with my own interests. From what I had gathered from previous online research on the organization and through conversations with my work mentor Mero, MLVC functions as a political organization dedicated to not only holding elected officials accountable for the protection of their constituent's environmental rights, but also educating and advocating for affected communities that might not have the resources or capacity to advocate for themselves.

This mission appealed to me, as someone interested in combating environmental racism especially in the face of Trump’s presidency.  I wanted to learn more about how to effectively organize community members most at risk of environmental degradation, to educate them about their place in their environment, and how to take action against local environmental injustices.

Me (far right) at a lobbying meeting with U.S. Senator Gary Peters. 

Me (far right) at a lobbying meeting with U.S. Senator Gary Peters. 

The first week of my internship started with a bang. My task? Participate in lobby day training activities, and, alongside other employees and board members of MLCV, lobby several Michigan representatives and senators regarding Trump’s proposed budget cuts to environmental agencies. In addition, I learned to advocate for issues specific to Michigan, such as Line 5 and how cuts to the EPA would affect the work of the DEQ.

This opportunity was very exciting because I had recently completed a government course at my college that discussed the importance of lobbying and interest groups in swaying the actions of legislators either for or against certain proposed bills. Aside from the Flint Water Crisis, I was not well-versed in Michigan’s environmental issues; thus, I felt unprepared to speak in meetings. However, sitting in a senator’s office and hearing them talk about how they plan to combat Trump’s proposed budget cuts not only made me feel like a very engaged citizen but also, for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I had the possibility of making a difference.

My first week in the Ann Arbor office after lobby day was both exciting and overwhelming. I finally met my work mentor Mero and the other people who I would see every day. I was given my very own desk, desktop, company email address, and most importantly, a username and password to access the Wi-Fi. But as I sat looking at a folder filled with information about the current issues MLCV is advocating for-- I felt overwhelmed with trying to digest so much information about the organization and Michigan’s environmental issues.

As my internship progressed, I began working on two main projects: the Porter Video Project and helping plan a regional supporter meeting in Dearborn County. Working on the Porter Video Project allowed me to dabble in advocacy through storytelling. I was able to storyboard, film, and edit a friend’s story of environmental racism in his community. The end goal of this project was to give my co-worker the opportunity to use MLCV as a platform to educate others about the environmental injustices in his community while simultaneously helping the organization reach new members and expand their social media presence.

As for the regional supporter meeting in Dearborn, I assisted Henry, the southeast MI Regional Coordinator, reach out to local community leaders in Dearborn, contact people in the community to inform them of the meeting, and create an agenda for the meeting. One of my favorite days at the organization was the day that Henry and I went to Dearborn to meet with two local community leaders. It allowed me to step outside of the “Ann Arbor bubble” and visit a community that needs assistance empowering members to understand the threats to their environment so they can better address the entities responsible for said attack and advocate for themselves. At these meetings, I also got to see how to have conversations that lead to possible collaborations and build relationships with organizations that could help us reach new members, as well as increase our visibility in these communities.

Overall, my experience at MLCV has been a very positive one. Although at times I did wonder if my contributions were enough for the organization, I have enjoyed doing all the work assigned to me. My main goal for the summer was to learn how to organize communities in order to educate them and help them advocate for themselves and the projects I worked on allowed me to see different aspects of how to do that. In addition to the work environment being incredibly welcoming and friendly, everyone at the organization made sure I was not only having fun but also learning as much as possible from the internship.   

Ecology Center: Acquiring New Perspectives in Food Systems Work Beyond Academia

Kelly Lam, Wesleyan University

This summer, I interned at the Ann Arbor Ecology Center under Lindsey Scalera, the Farm to Institution Campaign Director.

Enjoying great, local food at one of many community events of the summer.

Enjoying great, local food at one of many community events of the summer.

My journey with sustainable food systems sprouted in a food systems class taught by my peers, freshman year of college. Until this summer, my exposure to sustainable food had not strayed far from the academic bubble where it first developed. But for the past two months, I have had the privilege to work alongside individuals who have made creating sustainable food systems their life’s work—and I am incredibly humbled. No matter where I went in Michigan—Traverse City, Frankenmuth, Lansing, Ann Arbor; who I met—farmers, processors, distributors, food service directors, community members; there seemed to be an unlimited devotion within people to improving Michigan’s food system.

And, I am so amazed.  I learned that food is life; it not only nourishes our bodies, but it also uplifts our communities economically, empowers socially, and serves as a common ground to facilitate connections between people, and people and the environment. During my internship, I conducted local food research and compiled stories of people involved in farm to institution work. I created a quote bank—a vault of sorts—of individuals’ voices and stories, of people talking about their work. I attended farm to institution networking meetings where I had the opportunity to meet some of the individuals I was profiling. Being able to read about and then meet the people behind the work introduced me to perspectives I’d never been privy to before; it gave me a learning experience beyond academia.

Farmer's Market in Lansing, Michigan's State Capitol. 

Farmer's Market in Lansing, Michigan's State Capitol. 

I learned a lot and I will continue to learn. My mentor, Lindsey, showed me compassion and interest in my background and goals—developing my work plan around my skills and her available projects. I’m grateful to her for welcoming me into Michigan’s food system community; driving me across Michigan to meet people, participate in events, see farmers’ markets, and try new foods. My biggest challenge during my internship was my distributor database work, where I had to reach out to distributors to find out about local foods they carried. People didn’t always get back to me, and I didn’t always communicate our needs effectively. However, the work pushed me to find my voice and improve my communication skills.

I have felt so welcomed at the Ecology Center and in Michigan’s food system community. As I emerge from this internship, I feel stronger and more confident in my abilities to work with people and communities to create a just and sustainable food system. The skills I’ve picked up here in relationship building, communications, research and campaign planning, and story-telling are lifelong skills that I will carry with me throughout my career in food systems work.

Great Lakes Commission: Getting a Taste of Environmental Policy

Yorick Oden-Plants, College of William and Mary 

Me in my natural environment.

Me in my natural environment.

As an intern at the Great Lakes Commission (GLC), my work was focused on answering important questions concerning the inspection and maintenance of crude oil transmission pipelines in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River region. These questions were designed to garner ancillary information on best practices used to increase the safety of pipelines in the region.

I was initially responsible for producing an easy-to-understand informational document that would be used to educate stakeholders and interested parties on programs and processes available for pipeline inspection and maintenance. I was also asked to create a poster for public events and conferences to illustrate the information. After pulling ahead of schedule early on in the summer, my supervisor, Michele Leduc-Lapierre, offered to expand the scope of the project a bit. Originally, I was worried that my lack of experience regarding issues related to oil transportation and infrastructure would make the project a herculean task; however, my experience writing literature reviews for various science classes prepared me well. What was once a 2000-word summary became an 8500-word research paper.

When I was first assigned to the GLC I was concerned that such a policy heavy project was unrelated to my academic focus on restorative ecology and career aspirations as an environmental consultant. My concerns were assuaged within the first twenty minutes at the office building as I was introduced to program specialists working with invasive species and coastal habitat restoration. I was also pleased to learn that a few of my coworkers formerly worked as environmental consultants.

My poster on crude-oil pipeline inspection and maintenance practices in the Great Lakes.

My poster on crude-oil pipeline inspection and maintenance practices in the Great Lakes.

The project ultimately suited me perfectly as it exposed me to new facets of environmental work while providing resources to learn more about the areas I am already interested in. In my weekly meetings with Michele I learned a lot about how the writing process for a research paper in a non-profit setting differs from that of an academic setting. I also gained a lot of insight from Michele and my other coworkers into topics like going to graduate school while working, when to get my Masters, and what it’s really like to work after college.

The only lasting challenge I encountered in my time at the GLC was spending seven hours a day in a cubicle. Staying focused for that long in a quiet area is really hard, which is why I was glad that Cubeland was anything but quiet. The aptly named hall full of office cubicles was a really fun place to work. As I’m writing this, a lively debate on which gear you should park in has broken out. In the past, we’ve considered more important questions, such as what exactly constitutes a sandwich. Everyone I met at the GLC was incredibly welcoming and supportive, and I can’t imagine having a better suited internship or a better supervisor than Michele.