Intern gets his hands dirty building Peoria rain garden

June 12th, 2017 by

As a new intern with Illinois Water Resources Center, I attended a workshop last month with about 30 people from organizations including Peoria Public Works Department, Peoria Innovation Team, and Illinois Master Gardener and Master Naturalists at the Peoria Public Works building to learn the fundamentals of rain garden design.

Peoria’s interest in installing rain gardens has grown out of a pressing need to manage stormwater to help mitigate overflows from the city’s combined sewers into the Illinois River. Rain gardens can be part of an overall green infrastructure strategy that significantly reduces combined sewer overflows. IISG and the city of Peoria worked together over a year to finalize the details on this workshop, an important step towards addressing the the stormwater issue.

After an early-morning drive from Champaign to Peoria, I had the opportunity to listen to several guest speakers, including Kris Lucius, a landscape architect with SmithGroupJJR, and Eliana Brown, IISG stormwater specialist who introduced the group to rain garden design essentials. We also heard from Jason Haupt, Illinois Extension educator, who discussed details regarding plant species and best management practices for maintaining rain gardens.

Following a brief lunch, Kara Salazar, sustainable communities extension specialist, led the attendees on a group rain garden design scenario activity. Each group was tasked with a specific rain garden scenario that presented different planning obstacles.

Jason Haupt, Illinois Extension educator, speaks during the classroom session at the Peoria rain garden workshop.

My group was responsible for developing a rain garden in a typical suburban home setting. The role and functions of landscape architecture, which I’ve learned from my graduate studies as well as this workshop, can encompass numerous realms, including urban planning and design, architecture, and economic and community re-development.

Tuesday’s events brought many of these fields together. Designing and planting the rain gardens served as both a conceptual and physical implementation of green infrastructure and development. How this small project will serve as a precedent for the City of Peoria is one of many aspects of landscape architecture that interests me.

Cameron Letterly, left, helps distribute mulch at the rain garden build in front of the Peoria Public Works Department.

Darren Graves, intern at the Public Works Department in Peoria, designed the project that the participants then planted in front of the building.

“I wanted to add some color and some diversity in plant material to Public Works Department,” Graves said. “The more diversity we have in plant material creates a habitat for wildflower, pollinators, bees, hummingbirds, butterflies. This is one big cycle that can benefit everybody through our health as well as our crops.”

“I think landscape should be more than just shrubbery,” Graves added.

Anthony Corso, chief innovation officer and director of Peoria’s Innovation Team said this project would help the Peoria Public Works staff “understand what the maintenance looks like of this [rain garden] plan” and that it would serve as a model for what is “supposed to be expanded over two decades into about eight square miles of the city and beyond.”

All the participants gather for a photo in the new rain garden.

I initially had no idea of the scale, nor incredible enthusiasm of the volunteers for this project. However, after consulting the master plan and after digging the numerous holes for plants, I knew this experience was a step towards greater green infrastructure awareness for all involved.

Through our combined efforts, we were not only able to construct a functional rain garden in under two hours, but also able to involve an incredible array of volunteers from a multitude of disciplines.

To best summarize my experience, when our team began a system of handing river stones to each other, roughly defining the edges of the garden, I remembered a quote from earlier in the morning from Peoria Innovation Team’s Anthony Corso, “It’s easier to learn when you do some hands-on.”

Cameron Letterly is a summer intern with the Illinois Water Resources Center (IWRC) where he is currently working on several projects in coordination with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Cameron is a student in the Master of Landscape Architecture program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a prospective Illinois MBA candidate.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.


Four students join the IISG summer internship program

June 6th, 2016 by

IISG is excited to welcome four student interns this summer to help our specialists with everything from needs assessments, to outreach, to strategy facilitating, to economic valuations—and more. These four will spend 12 weeks working closely with a Sea Grant specialist on the issues affecting the Great Lakes.

Intern_2016_Jordan_LillybridgeJordan Lillybridge
Green Infrastructure Workforce Intern
Margaret Schneemann
Located at Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

Jordan is a senior at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin majoring in geospacial science with a minor in geographic information systems.

He will be conducting a needs assessment and market analysis to ensure that training and workforce development efforts are in line with the Calumet region’s occupational and employment needs, leveraging the relationship gap between stakeholders and the community, and making sure all aspects (skill gaps, design standards, municipal regulations and the regional environment policies) are being looked at when achieving a Green Infrastructure program


Abigail Petersen
Community Sustainability Intern
Kara Salazar
Located at Purdue University

Abigail graduated in May from the University of Illinois in natural resources and environmental sciences. She will be pursuing a Master’s degree in August 2016 in agriculture education at the University of Illinois.

During her summer internship, Abigail will collaboratively develop new extension education and training materials (case studies, fact sheets, excerpts of guide books) related to public spaces, rain gardens, and watershed management topics. She will also be help campus specialists deliver extension and training programs to communities across Indiana. 

Abigail has hit the ground running in the two weeks since her internship began. She has attended the inaugural train the trainer program for the Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces program, supported the first meeting and launch of the advisory board and program development effort for the new Natural Resources Leadership Program, attended strategic planning meetings for IISG in Chicago, and helped to host a community meeting to start the Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces program in Columbus, Indiana.


Ashley Rice
Science Writer and Nutrient Strategy Facilitator Intern
Anjanette Riley, Eliana Brown, and Lisa Merrifield
Located at University of Illinois

Ashley comes to us from the agricultural communications program at Illinois State University, where she is about to start her senior year.

This summer, Ashley will wear two hats: a science writer and nutrient strategy facilitator. For her part in the communications team, Ashley oversees the Illinois Water blog, writing news and feature articles on IWRC research projects and important water issues facing the state.

She will also work closely with IWRC and IISG’s Eliana Brown to help facilitate Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy implementation and support Eliana’s other stormwater and water quality outreach efforts.

Intern_2016_Lauren_SchnoebelenLauren Schnoebelen

Water Pricing Intern
Margaret Schneemann
Located at Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

Lauren is a recent graduate from Northern Michigan University with a major in environmental science, a concentration in natural resources and a minor in sustainability.

She will be working on the Ecosystem Services Project helping with organizing tables of articles and writing the literature reviews on their economic valuations.

Lauren will also be on the water rates database where she will be working with water rates and pricing ordinances.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension.

Dreams can come true aboard the Lake Guardian

June 23rd, 2015 by

It may sound cheesy, but it’s always my dream and goal in life to make a difference in the world and to help others. I always thought this would be something I would have to do outside of my career, however, being an outreach intern for Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant allows me to integrate part of this dream into my career.

This coming fall I will be going into my senior year at the University of Illinois. I am majoring in advertising and minoring in both communication and sociology as well as receiving my certification in public relations. In addition, I am part of the James Scholar Program in the College of Media at U of I.
As an intern, I assist with outreach efforts associated with R/V Lake Guardian to increase awareness of the Lake Guardianmission and the research conducted on the ship. My specific duties entail developing a brochure about the ship, assisting with the Lake Guardian Dispatch blog, maintaining and reorganizing the Lake Guardian website, assisting with daily social media efforts, and assisting with a kiosk design for the ship. This past week (June 15-18) I was given the opportunity to climb aboard the Lake Guardian where I was able to develop a full understanding of the vessel along with assist with ongoing sampling, and conduct outreach efforts while on the ship.
Robert Browning once said, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” This past week definitely exceeded my own grasp. My experience on Lake Guardian was a completely new experience for me and I admit that I was a little nervous going into it. After being on board for just a few hours, I was quickly reminded of how rewarding it is to take on a new experience. It truly makes you grow as a person and appreciate new things in life. A typical day for me consisted of photography and videography, live-tweeting, late night blog posting, and assisting with ongoing sampling throughout the day. The work days were long, but seemed to go by quickly. So did my time on the ship, I enjoyed every minute of it.
Our overall trip mission was to collect water, plankton, and benthic invertebrates for organic chemical analysis. This survey is known as the “Great Lakes Fish and Monitoring Surveillance Program: Pushing the Science (Clarkson University)” and assesses how contaminants cycle throughout the food web in Lake Michigan. The vessel consisted of a team of crew members (marine technicians, seamen, engineers, the captain and mates) as well as members from Clarkson University, SUNY Fredonia, SUNY Oswego, NOAA, U.S. EPA GLNPO, and IISG.
The trip was most definitely the experience of a lifetime. I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience the Lake Guardian hands-on and to help keep the Great Lakes clean for all through this internship.
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