By Kathleen Wong, UC Natural Reserve System
Thanks to a gift from retired UC Riverside faculty, the UC Riverside Natural Reserve System is offering an internship for undergraduates to participate in summer field research at one or more of the campus’s natural reserves. The Advancing Inclusivity Internship will provide diverse students from Southern California universities with the opportunity to work on faculty projects as part of their immersive outdoor experiences.
“I want people who don’t normally have access to natural areas to realize how critically important they are, how beautiful they are. I want them to see the world as a place where everybody’s actions affect everyone else,” says Kim Hammond, a professor of natural sciences and faculty director of the UC Riverside Natural Reserve System.
“A lot of students feel rather hopeless with climate change and wildfires. Working in nature for the internship enables them to feel they can make a difference,” says Heather Constable, administrative officer for the UCR NRS.
The internship will be funded by a $400,000 endowment gift from emeritus professors Mary Price and Nickolas Waser. In the 1990s, Price conducted research on the then-endangered Stephens’s kangaroo rat at the NRS’s Motte Rimrock Reserve. Waser is an expert on plant-pollinator interactions. Both have been longstanding supporters of the UCR NRS.
“We have enjoyed a career-long appreciation of what it means to be exposed when young to being in the field, and how transformative that was for us. And we thought, let’s pass this on, let’s pay this forward,” Waser says.
The couple hope the internship draws students from all types of disciplines. “The reserves are not just for biology students or geology students. Whether you’re a student of dance or philosophy or creative writing, that experience of immersion in nature is just as valuable,” Price says.
The funds from Price and Waser will be doubled thanks to the campus giving program Let’s Be Brilliant Together. Those wishing to contribute to the internship can donate to the Mary Price and Nick Waser UC Riverside Natural Reserve System Endowed Scholarship Fund.
Three interns will be selected per year for the internship. Each will receive a $6,000 stipend for 10 weeks of full-time work. First generation college students and Pell Grant recipients are encouraged to apply. Interns will conduct their work at one or more of UCR’s six natural reserves: Box Springs Reserve, Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center, Emerson Oaks Reserve, James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve, Motte Rimrock Reserve, and Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center.
The internship went through a soft launch last year with temporary funding from former UCR professor John and his wife Betty Moore. Hammond and Constable matched the inaugural interns with project advisors.
One of three interns chosen was Caryn Iwanaga, now a third-year student at UCR. For her internship project, Iwanaga investigated whether moths at higher altitudes were in fact larger as predicted by theory. She worked at both Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center and White Mountain Research Center with UCR biology professor Nicole Rafferty.
Iwanaga found the fellowship invaluable in myriad ways. For example, the opportunity to work with Rafferty and her lab members gave Iwanaga the opportunity to ask questions about both field techniques and career paths. “I felt I got a good idea of what working in this field would be. It really affirmed my interest in continuing on in a career in ecology,” she says.
The chance to challenge herself was also very affirming. “I discovered things about myself I didn’t know beforehand, like my personal initiative and curiosity. I really shocked myself in how much I carried my research and accomplished too,” Iwanaga says.
The fact that the internship is paid yielded dividends of another kind: her family now views her chosen field of ecology as a viable career option. “My parents have been very apprehensive about this career direction for me; they wanted their kids in a stable, secure career they are familiar with, like medicine. Being paid for the internship showed my parents this is a legitimate program; that it’s not just playing around with plants, but is something viable for my future.”
Iwanaga has enjoyed benefits from the internship long after it officially ended. She has continued working with the Rafferty lab after the internship. Both she and fellow Advancing Inclusivity intern Advyth Ramachandran were so inspired by visiting UCR’s six NRS reserves that they have been arranging field trips to the sites for members of UCR’s Ecological Society of America’s Strategies for Ecology, Education, Diversity, and Sustainability (SEEDS) club.
“I didn’t feel my background really engaged me in nature. That’s why I’m really passionate about giving that to other students,” Iwanaga says.
Going forward, Hammond and Constable plan to invite mentors from UCR and other institutions to propose internship projects. Successful student applicants will then select the project that sounds most appealing from the list of options. Events such as museum visits and group camping trips will enable participants to get to know one another.
Applications for this year’s internships will open March 16, and close April 15. Learn more and apply on the Advancing Inclusivity Internship page.