It’s been two years since we launched our summer internship program, and we couldn’t be happier with the results. Our interns did great things at IISG—educated boaters on AIS prevention, investigated community perceptions of sediment remediation projects, installed a real-time buoy in Lake Michigan, and more. But their impressive work didn’t end with the summer. Several are now in graduate programs, including law school. Some moved on to internships focused on Great Lakes monitoring and renewable engineering. And a few have even stayed at IISG.
To celebrate the program’s two-year anniversary, we go back to where it all began with a four-part series showcasing our first round of interns—what they did and where they are now. First up, Lainey Pasternak.
What did you work on while interning with IISG?
I worked with the aquatic invasive species (AIS) team at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. I designed and conducted a survey to help investigate the prevalence of AIS preventative behaviors among boaters and anglers, a key demographic in the effort to prevent the spread of AIS. By the end of the summer, I formulated a formal research report and academic poster presentation based on the final results of my survey. All efforts in the research and poster presentation were done in collaboration with my internship supervisor and co-author, Sarah Zack. In September 2012, I presented my research at the Illinois Water Conference at the University of Illinois and received a student scholarship and honorable mention award. Among the 30 registered students in the poster competition, I was one of two to receive a conference award and the only undergraduate to receive any mention.
What did you like most about your internship?
My summer internship marked the beginning of my environmental science and research career. There are many different aspects of the internship that really made it a memorable and influential experience. Working one-on-one with the AIS team, I took part in their mission and service to communities in Illinois and Indiana. Throughout the summer, I was able to contribute to the rebranding of their outreach program, IISG staff meetings and webinars, and educational presentations at the Environmental Protection Agency, Brookfield Zoo, Cook County Forest Preserves, and Chicago Botanic Gardens. I was also able to formulate and conduct my own research design, survey collection, data analysis, and scientific presentation. I really enjoyed having central ownership on my project and learned so much about independent scientific research. Lastly, the experience allowed me to give back to the community. Over the summer, I met and talked to over 650 people about AIS and the actions they could take to stop their spread into the Great Lakes. I gained valuable experience on communicating complex environmental issues to local communities.
What are you doing now?
This June, I started graduate school at the University of Notre Dame, where I am working towards an M.S. in biology. Through a fully funded research assistantship, I am working in Dr. Jessica Hellmann’s Global Change Ecology Lab. My thesis project is on the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly’s response to climate change and natural resource management at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
How did your time with IISG help prepare you for your graduate work?
Through the IISG summer internship program, I was able to gain firsthand experience with research and environmental problem solving. Not only did my project prepare me for internships and research throughout the rest of my undergraduate career, it will also give me perspective on my next independent research opportunity in graduate school at Notre Dame. Working with the incredibly hard-working people at IISG, I learned a lot about working as a team towards a common goal or set of objectives. This skillset will help immensely in my work with other graduate students, lab technicians, and undergraduates in my new research position with Dr. Hellmann.
What advice would you have for future IISG interns or those considering applying?
I believe working with IISG can open doors to your future professional careers in research, natural resources, or environmental science. I was immersed in an atmosphere of beneficial networking and active learning that has greatly prepared me for proceeding job opportunities and graduate school. For those admitted into the internship program, I encourage you to invest your summer in the project, environmental issue, and co-workers around you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and try to become an expert. Also, throughout the internship, begin to think and ask yourself if this work or field of study is something you would want to make into a career for yourself. By doing these things, you will surely find professional, scholarly, and personal success through the IISG internship program.