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My 2017 Climate Corps Summer Internship

By Nikki Pirtel

Bruce and students

Student teams led by Bruce Hyde and other CLEAR faculty will work with Connecticut towns as part of the UConn Climate Corps.

The shoreline community of Westbrook, Connecticut, situated halfway between New Haven and New London, is home to approximately 7,000 residents while supporting seasonal tourists with numerous beaches and shopping stores in the town’s outlet. It is also the municipality I was assigned to research and create a vulnerability assessment for during my time at the UConn Extension Office Internship in partnership with the Climate Adaption Academy and Climate Corps. Through the internship I achieved the Extension Office’s mission of using scientific research to engage with members of the public and municipalities, breaking down complex problems and developing easy to understand solutions that may help inform policy in the future.

Using the town’s Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan and various mapping services, I compiled a list of assets that I determined to have some level of vulnerability to climate hazards (such as flooding, sea level rise, damage from high precipitation events) primarily based on their geographical location to bodies of water. Although this information was similar to that described in the town’s plan, my created final product takes the basic material and provides recommended actions to reduce vulnerability, thus going one step further. With my help and the aid of future interns, the municipality can prepare for the impacts already being seen from climate change while simultaneously saving money. Figuring out the best way to protect assets and people within communities, whether proposing solutions on a town wide or specific infrastructure basis (an approach this internship takes with the Climate Corps Information Sheet), is an important discussion to have and comparison to make. Creating the vulnerability assessment was a rewarding process and the completed 38-page document (including references and figures) is something that I am proud to show to anyone willing to learn about the risk-based evaluations. I hope that the work done in this internship will grow into a much more substantial program and help Connecticut become a leader in climate adaptation.

Additional internship responsibilities included website updating and offering recommendations for a role-playing exercise that will occur in a new Climate Corps related class during the upcoming semester. These activities helped me reflect on past, similar experiences so that I could make any changes to proposed material to avoid previous problems I had encountered. Finding links to put on the Adapt CT website (through UConn’s Center for Land Use Education and Research) helped bring out my creative side and allowed me to delve into topics that really interest me.

Although attending meetings (except with the Westbrook town planner) and conducting a field site visit were not a part of my official obligations, seeing people and infrastructure in person really tied everything in the internship together. By seeing the people, along with their properties and other assets, that will be most negatively impacted by climate change in the future, my work felt much more important knowing what I did this summer may have a positive influence in time. Talking to members of shoreline communities from various backgrounds also made me realize that the climate will leave people of all classes vulnerable to events such as sea level rise, storm surge, flooding and tropical storms/hurricanes. Overall, this was more than just a summer job, rather a learning experience teaching me the ins and outs of local government, how input from the public affects an administration’s policies and the importance of maintaining natural landscapes within man-made ones.

UConn Extension Interns Tie Research to Real Life

Each year, UConn students apply and compete for paid internship opportunities with UConn Extension, whose mission is to connect the power of UConn research to local issues by creating practical, science-based answers to complex problems. This summer, 13 students are tying research to real life in our UConn Extension offices across the state.

Santiago Palaez Mosquera, a junior majoring in natural resources and the environment, is helping Extension educator Vickie Wallace in Norwich develop a sustainable certificate program for various sectors of the green industry. These include golf, sports turf, and nursery/garden center and landscape industry sectors that serve to promote and foster green, sustainable education. “I work statewide in sustainable turf and landscape,” Vickie says. “I serve as a bridge, answering questions and bringing pertinent research to the practitioners. The sustainable certificate program will build on the research and outreach of the turf program.”

John McDonald, a psychology major in his junior year at UConn, works with Laura Brown, Extension Community and Economic Development Educator in the Bethel office. This summer, John is helping with several emerging research pieces around the Community First Impressions program and the emerging development of a state multi-user trails study.

As a graduate student in agriculture and resource economics, Nadege Kenfack already has experience researching a variety of issues. Nadege is working with Extension educator Jiff Martin in Vernon to further develop strategies to increase local food consumption, with a particular interest in Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and buy local campaigns.

Joanna Slemp is a junior majoring in resource economics, and is developing online learning modules for the ornamental and turf programs at the West Hartford office. Joanna and mentor Candace Bartholomew are building the design and arrangement of content, graphic interfaces and other necessary technical pieces of the Online Learning Modules.

Kerrin

Kerrin Kinnear in our Haddam office. Dave Dickson photo.

The UConn Extension Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) is based in Haddam and provides information, education and assistance to land use decision makers, in support of balancing growth and natural resource protection. Kerrin Kinnear, a junior in majoring in environmental studies, is working with Dave Dickson this summer on low impact storm water regulations. Kerrin is working with town staff on the adoption and implementation of low impact storm water regulations. She is interviewing key town staff in other towns that have begun to adopt LID-friendly storm water regulations to get a sense of the drivers behind the regulations, factors affecting LID implementation and the impact of the regulations.

“Interning at CLEAR has shown me how sustainability concepts I learn about in the classroom come to life in real world applications,” Kerrin says. “Through speaking with community planners across the state, I have gained insight into the real motives behind current environmental initiatives, as well as the obstacles towns face in implementing low impact development in the field.”

The UConn Extension 4-H youth program prepares youth to meet the needs of a global economy, while learning new skills, meeting new friends, and discovering new things about themselves and the world through UConn’s research-driven programs. In 2014, 20,180 youth participated in UConn Extension 4-H programs. By teaching young people that science can be fun, we build on a century of knowledge that early STEM exposure opens doors for youth to explore and directs them to think of careers in these fields. UConn 4-H is preparing the next generation of scientists, engineers and technology experts; and six of our interns are working with 4-H programs this summer.

In our Torrington office, Yoon-Young Choi, a graduate student in agricultural and resource economics, is building off of her studies to serve as the 4-H Youth Development Program Research, Assessment and Evaluation intern. Under the direction of Laura Marek, Yoon is researching current 4-H youth development program evaluation models, collecting data to be used for evaluating several aspects of the UConn 4-H Program, and working in conjunction with state 4-H staff in writing up results of the evaluation.

Joanna Murawski, a graduate student in health promotion, is also working in the Norwich office this summer with Pamela Gray and 4-H education. Joanna is providing outreach through the delivery of 4-H programs, assisting in the preparation and duties of the New London County 4-H Fair, assisting in 4-H promotion through social media, and managing administrative duties as required by the 4-H program.  In West Hartford, Rebecca Masse, a junior majoring in agriculture and natural resources is serving as the Hartford County 4-H program assistant and working on a variety of unique and innovative initiatives under the guidance of Laura Marek.

As a senior majoring in Animal Science, the 4-H Equine and County Fair Program internship with Emily Alger in Haddam is a natural fit for Delaney Patterson. Delaney is working with the State 4-H Horse Program and the Middlesex & New Haven County 4-H Fair Program. A second intern will also be influencing the outcome of the Middlesex & New Haven County 4-H Fair. Erinn Hines is a UConn sophomore majoring in Human Development and Family Studies and is working with Margaret Grillo, in the North Haven office. Erinn is also helping to launch the Discover Science through 4-H Program, and improving the office’s social media footprint.

As a mechanical engineering major, Howard Ho, a freshman, brings a vital skill set to his internship with Dr. German Cutz in Bethel. Howard’s work focuses on developing lesson plans for and teaching the 4-H Robotics and Technology Program to groups of Lego robotics students. Up to 60 participants are expected in this summer’s program.

Holly Lewis is an allied health science major in her sophomore year at UConn. She is working in the Brooklyn office with Marc Cournoyer on 4-H Education and the Pasture and Livestock Data Program. 4-H youth programs in gardening, STEM mini camps, and county fair activities are included in Holly’s projects. She is also travelling to local livestock farms, sampling for pasture quality and collecting livestock yield data.

As the 4-H Fair intern in Tolland County, nutritional sciences junior Alix Moriarty is working with Maryann Fusco in the Vernon office to insure the success of the 74th Tolland County 4-H Fair, which is a yearlong project of the teen Fairboard. Alix also works with Maryann on STEM programs like junk drawer robotics, science in the kitchen, and lost in the woods. “Youth can become an engineer with things from around the house,” Alix says. “We construct tooth brush eco-bots, marshmallow launching trebuchets, and a mechanical arm. Through 4-H STEM programs, youth discover how to think like a scientist, communicate like an engineer, and build like a technician.”

For more information on UConn Extension, please visit our website at www.extension.uconn.edu. Extension internships are facilitated through the UConn Center for Career Development. If you would like guidance on how your organization can establish an internship program with UConn students please email your inquiry to internships@uconn.edu.