Nelson Institute students reflect on summer jobs, internships and study abroad experiences

December 13, 2011

As the spring semester approaches, students are beginning to look for new opportunities to get real-world experience near and far, whether going abroad, getting an internship or securing a part-time or summer job.

Tristin Marotz, the Nelson Institute's undergraduate program coordinator, says studying abroad allows students to expand their college experience and become global citizens.

Katie Framstad volunteers on Motuihe Island  with a school group from Auckland
Senior Katie Framstad (far right) studied abroad
in Australia this summer. Here she volunteers on
Motuihe Island, helping to restore native habitat.

"When our students study abroad they often are able to see environmental issues first hand and help to address those issues from an interdisciplinary point of view," Marotz explains. "We've had students work in the rainforests in South America, with sea turtles in Turks and Caicos and with wildlife management issues in Kenya and Tanzania."

Internships and jobs "offer students the opportunity to gain valuable experiences to both build their resumes and to learn about what they are interested in, " she says.

In the summer of 2011, Nelson Institute students participated in a variety of programs across the state, the country and the world (see a map plotting their activity). Their experiences ranged from studying invasive species to learning about distant cultures to rescuing marine animals and more.

Below, three environmental studies students share more about how these extracurricular opportunities allowed them to learn more while giving back and having fun along the way.

Study Abroad: University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Katie Framstad,
senior majoring in atmospheric and oceanic sciences with an environmental studies certificate

Katie Framstad holds a baby saltwater crocodile in Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia
Framstad holds a baby saltwater
crocodile in Darwin, Australia.

I found my study abroad opportunity - a summer field course, "Australian Environment and Wildlife Conservation" - through the Education Abroad Network. We traveled the country visiting the Charles Darwin and Kakadu National Parks in the tropical north, Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the central outback, the Blue Mountains in the southeast, and Cairns and the Daintree Rain Forest on the northeast coast, having the chance to see the world famous Great Barrier Reef.

One of the most incredible aspects of the trip was hearing directly from Australian aboriginal descendants, the oldest known human population still alive, about their extensive knowledge of the country's land, plants and animals, as well as conservation and legislative issues that have been encountered since European settlement. Each landscape, climate and culture we learned about gave the class a hands-on quality like I had never experienced before.

After a month and a half in Australia, I headed to New Zealand to volunteer for International Student Volunteers in Auckland.

Advice for students

Tristin Marotz suggests
that students interested
in studying abroad contact
the UW-Madison International
Academic Programs office's
study abroad advisors. "The
advisors can help students
find the right experience,"
she says.

For jobs and internships,
Marotz says, students should
check the Nelson Institute
online environmental jobs
, career advising offices
on campus and BuckyNet,
a free online service that
allows UW-Madison students
to search for job and internship
opportunities, participate in
on-campus interviews, and

Carmela Diosana, Nelson
Institute associate student
services coordinator, also
hosts group advising and
information sessions about
jobs, internships and research
opportunities. Contact her for
information about future
sessions. And don't be afraid
to inquire about potential
opportunities through your
network of campus contacts.

My project assignment was to help restore to its native habitat Motuihe ("Moh-tu-hee") Island just off the east coast. This involved weeding out invasive plants such as the woolly nightshade tree, planting native species like pohutakawa and flax trees, removing washed-up litter from beaches and removing rusted fences.

To add to the environmental aspect of this volunteering experience, the ten of us stayed in a small cabin powered by solar panels, heated by gas, and with a limited local groundwater supply. Eating homemade local food from Auckland every night (they even catered to my vegetarianism!) topped off the cultural experience.

My final stop was Bounty Island, Fiji - an added excursion through International Student Volunteers. There were continuing educational experiences, including a firewalking ceremony performed for us by local Fijians and a boat ride to a local village to spend time with school children. We helped the children clean the schoolyard, sang songs with them and learned about the local culture.

Of everything I did my entire summer, snorkeling in both the Great Barrier Reef and the coral reefs of Fiji was the absolute highlight, with the amazing colors and adaptations of plants and animals in one of the most rapidly disappearing wonders of our world.

After having the time of my life this summer, I can't wait to travel more and continue to make an impact in the field of environmental conservation.

Summer Field Research: UW-Madison Center for Limnology
Abby Jackson, senior majoring in international studies with an environmental studies certificate

This summer I worked in Northern Oneida and Vilas County, Wisconsin, doing research on the bioeconomic effects of aquatic invasive species. Using field data gathered this summer, the study will link aquatic invasive species to an economic value.

UW-Madison student Abby Jackson
Abby Jackson presents the field
data she collected this summer.

My job was to go to lakes that have been contaminated with Eurasian water milfoil, an aquatic invasive plant species that rapidly propagates. There, I would give short surveys to boaters, asking them about their knowledge of Eurasian water milfoil and about their typical boating habits (what lakes they have been to that day, how they transport their boat, etc.).

After each survey, I asked the boater if s/he would sign up for our boater diary program, in which boaters log in-depth data about every trip they take and then, at the end of the month, send their diary to the Center for Limnology.

I also took counts of how many boaters were at a lake at a certain time to note the amount of boater traffic in the area. This fall semester I am entering all of the summer's data, including the surveys and diaries we received.

Looking back, the internship was an awesome opportunity. I got to spend my summer in a beautiful part of Wisconsin and worked on a team of like-minded environmentalists who are now some of my good friends. In addition, I learned a lot about the many treasured lakes of Wisconsin and the serious threat of invasive species. And to top it off I had some nature sightings, including a black bear, red foxes and deer.

Internship: Mystic Aquarium
Laura Martinelli, junior majoring in wildlife ecology and Spanish with an environmental studies certificate

This summer I was an intern for the marine mammal and sea turtle stranding department at the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn. I worked along 1,000 miles of coastline rescuing and rehabilitating sick or injured harp, harbor and gray seals as well as green and Kemp's ridley sea turtles.

Laura Martinelli holds a harbor seal at Mystic Aquarium
Laura Martinelli holds a harbor
seal pup at Mystic Aquarium.

Each day, the stranding department would receive calls about animals on the beach that appeared to be ill. If the call was deemed serious, our group would head to the beach to observe and possibly pick up the animal in question to bring it back to our clinic. Once at the clinic, an admittance exam, which included any number of medical procedures, would be performed on the animal. All of this was done to assess the current state of the animal and to formulate a care plan.

The majority of my time was spent implementing the care plan for the inpatients at the rescue clinic. Care duties ranged from feeding animals to administering medications to cleaning the care units and pool areas.

Another component of my internship was to help examine the bodies of dead animals that washed up on shore or died at the clinic. Through these necropsy examinations I was able to find out more about the biology of the phocid (true seal) body.

Some animals that had undergone advanced decomposition could not go through a necropsy. In those situations, I worked with a team to collect field data, then sent that data to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I learned about how the government plays a large role in conservation and how essential it is to work in conjunction with government agencies to accomplish wildlife management goals.

One of the biggest highlights of my summer was cleaning the belly buttons of harbor seal pups that had been abandoned by their mothers. These pups were so young that their umbilical openings had not yet healed. Due to this, they were extremely susceptible to infection. In order to prevent a possibly deadly contraction of disease, we would scoop up the pups and sanitize their belly buttons.

An adult harp seal is released at Blue Shutter Beach
Poseidon, an adult harp seal, is released at
Blue Shutters Beach after being rehabilitated.

Another major highlight was releasing the animals that had been fully rehabilitated. I was able to release one harbor seal pup and one adult harp seal during my internship term. There is no feeling like rehabilitating and releasing an animal, and watching them head back into the ocean surf.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed and gained so much from my summer internship. There are many perks that come with interning at an aquarium -- for example, receiving a "shadow day" with a department of your choice. I chose to shadow the beluga whale department and spent the day training and observing beluga whales. Another perk is that, on any given day, different animals could be out and about in the aquarium helping to educate visitors. One day I encountered a penguin in the administration office!

I am so thankful to Mystic Aquarium for all of their knowledge, expertise and joy. It is an excellent organization to intern for and I would definitely do it again.