Interpreting Our Internship Experience
Each year, five interns and one senior intern (the Education Fellow) join the Education Team for nine months to learn about and participate in educational and public programming at Cincinnati Nature Center. Our goal is for our interns to leave the Nature Center and become leaders in the field. As the end of their term draws close, our current intern crew wrote the following reflections to share with you.
There is a certain curiosity that follows the education interns here at the Nature Center. We know this because conversations with guests and volunteers often go as follows:
Guest: “What is your job here at CNC?”
Intern: “Oh, me? I’m an education intern.”
Guest: “Wow! Really?! [Insert 5-10 additional questions here.]”
We are always pleasantly surprised and grateful that people love to get to know us during our short stay in this place like no other. It feels wonderful to be so quickly absorbed into such a caring community in August, and it is always sad when the time comes for us to leave in June. As the time when we “leave the nest” quickly approaches, each of us has been reflecting upon the meaning of our time here. Although we’ve encountered many things together, each intern’s experience is unique, and we’d each like to share our biggest takeaways with you, our Nature Center family, using the Environmental Interpretation skills we’ve gained during our time here.
Molly Sterling, Education Fellow
Here at the Nature Center I have been like a bullfrog tadpole, growing and transforming during my three years underwater. My first year was spent learning the basics of living under the surface, and I did so with five tadpoles (my fellow interns) who quickly became my close pals. Developing and practicing our interpretive skills through leading school groups and planning engaging programs enabled me to store fat in my tail, which I have relied on ever since. At the end of nine months, my green frog friends had grown legs and I watched them leave the pond with shrunken tails. I still had some growing to do, since my back legs were only half-grown and my front legs had not yet budded, so I stayed for a second year as the senior intern, known as the Education Fellow.
Five new tadpoles arrived around the time that my back legs were fully grown and with a year’s worth of fat stored, it became my duty to help the newcomers. I didn’t realize at first that this would be a year for lessons of a different kind. Fond memories and tough challenges tangled together like reeds in the water and I learned more about who I want to be as a role model, teacher and friend. As my front legs came in, these frogs left the pond one by one, but I still wasn’t quite ready for land. I stayed at the Nature Center as Education Fellow for one more term.
Being underwater has slowly started to feel more natural. Since a third gang of tadpoles arrived, my hope has been to help them through their development. Little did I know that they would help me feel more confident in who I am as a leader and a teacher. By watching them, I have learned to calmly face challenges head-on and to look at my mistakes as opportunities for growth. I can feel my lungs developing as we near the end of our time here and I’m glad that I’ve spent the last few months alongside these incredible friends. I’m also glad that this time around, there is another bullfrog tadpole among us and she will stay as the new Education Fellow to help the next round of interns.
I feel grateful for all of the experiences I’ve had underwater, the good as well as the challenging, because they have helped to shape who I am now. While my development has taken longer than other animals’, I have changed as a person and a professional in major ways and I know that the time is near for my final growth stage: moving from the pond that I’ve called home for three years to land where uncertainty and adventure awaits.
The mourning dove walks along casually looking for food in the fading sun. It does not dig for seeds, rather it saves its energy by taking what is already on the ground, what is readily available. Like the mourning dove, I have learned during my time here at the Nature Center that it’s important to work with what you have. This means I don’t have to expend my limited, introverted energy, in order to hold peoples’ attention. When being my calm, relaxed self, I have seen people recognize my sincerity, which hooks them and draws them in just as effectively as a perkier person would. For some the low, slow “cooing” of the mourning dove can be more enticing than the call of a titmouse or wren.
The mourning dove is present across the United States during all seasons and adapts well to altered environments. Like the mourning dove, I have learned to succeed despite changing situations, foreseen or unforeseen. If something can happen, it will, and as an educator (or any successful adult), it’s crucial to be able to adapt to the unexpected. The mourning dove is cool and collected and just like this bird I have learned not to worry or panic. It’s okay to not know the answers to questions, and it’s okay to mess up. Learning from mistakes and adjusting the next time you do something is how you grow. Just like the mourning dove, which leaves the nest after just two weeks, I feel that I have grown rapidly and robustly at the Nature Center. I’ve learned how to effectively teach a variety of subjects to a variety of people, in a variety of different ways. I will go forth peacefully like the mourning dove, and spread what I have learned, no matter what turns I will take along the way.
My time as an intern at the Nature Center could be compared to the journey of one of my favorite Rowe Woods residents, the red-spotted newt. For as long as I can consciously remember, I have been enthralled with the natural world. As a kid, I was captivated by the adventures of Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin. That captivation manifested into environmental career aspirations. I like to imagine that’s how a red-spotted newt sees its world after hatching; curious and delighted by the aquatic world that it was born into, never wanting to leave. As an intern at the Nature Center I’ve had the opportunity to live in nature, teach children and adults about environmental concepts and contribute to positive guest experiences. It has been an invaluable experience.
Though the natural world is where my heart is, I have decided to transition into a totally different professional field, the Department of the Army. I’m a little anxious, but also excited for what the next three years have in store. Perhaps some of our red-spotted newts go through the same emotions as they leave the world they know and transition into a temporary life on land. Like the newt, I hope to have a happy ending to this transition. At the end of my three year contract with the Department of the Army, I can transfer to an environmental agency within the government. I hope to return to the environmental field, a world and profession that I love. I’m not alone in my transition; the newt will also return to its aquatic home after a few years of development on land. Perhaps we can both reflect about our experiences and how they prepared us for the future.
Let me begin by saying how grateful and honored I am to be an intern at the Nature Center. I could not imagine a better way to have spent the last seven months of my life. I feel that I have experienced a tremendous amount of growth throughout my time here, not only as an environmental interpreter, but also as a person. When I reflect upon my experiences here, I feel like a fledgling bird that has been tirelessly nurtured from its humble beginning as a delicate egg. The entire Nature Center community has graciously offered me countless learning opportunities that have helped me begin trading my downy coat of fluff for elegant feathers. Additionally, during my time in the nest with my intern “siblings,” I have gained friendships that I hope will last a lifetime. Lastly, I am so appreciative to have felt supported through every attempt of flight – through countless falls and fleeting moments of fluttering, I have always felt encouraged and empowered to continue taking leaps. Though my time in the nest is coming to an end, I will always be thankful to my Nature Center family for helping me learn to fly.
I’ll admit that I didn’t jump for joy when I first thought about sharing my reflections in this blog post—I’m not so great at expressing my feelings. Imagine my shock, then, when I realized that the perfect animal representative for me was THE symbol of the Nature Center, the monarch butterfly. Every year the monarch, through successive generations, migrates between the northern US and Mexico, where it roosts in native oyamel trees. Although no individual butterfly survives the entire migration cycle, offspring almost always return to the same oyamel as their ancestors, a feat that continues to boggle and amaze scientists.
The monarch’s journey—much like my own—seems to have no end. My family moved to Milford when I was 7, so every trail I tramp here feels like home. I was, however, born in Wisconsin and went to school in Minnesota, so the northern forests also feel quite familiar. This summer I will be moving out to Seattle and I will probably move somewhere else a couple of years after that, endlessly on the move.
This opportunity at the Nature Center felt like a homecoming, and while I may call several places home throughout my life, the forests and creeks of Cincinnati will always hold a special place in my heart. Like the monarchs, who can return to their oyamel year after year, I know there is and always will be a home for me here. My surroundings may change, but the spirit and energy of the Nature Center and this city will forever be instilled in me and I am forever grateful to the community that helped raise me into what I am today.
Whitney Drahota, incoming Education Fellow
Dragonflies and I spend a lot of our lives undergoing a series of gradual changes on our journey to becoming adults. I spent more than 17 years in a classroom, whereas dragonflies spend about a week as eggs. I’d say they had the easier route, but once dragonflies hatch into the water, life can be tough because other nymphs might eat them! Dragonflies spend most of their lives as nymphs undergoing incomplete metamorphosis- molting between six to fifteen times- and it’ll take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years to reach adulthood, depending on the species. I’d like to look at my time at the Nature Center as a series of molts on my way to being a professional adult. Each experience teaches me something new or I grow in some way like the dragonfly. I transitioned from being a recent college graduate to an intern and in a few months, I’ll transition from being an intern into the Education Fellow. Eventually I’ll undergo my last transition in the Nature Center pond and venture off to the next stage, but for now, I can’t wait to see what experiences the next year will bring!
Leaving the Nest…
One of the more common questions we’re asked during the conversation about our experiences is where we are going next and what we’ll be doing in the future. Each of us came into the internship from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, we’ve shared the last 7 months growing and learning together, and in June we’ll be leaving the nest. Our future paths are as varied as we are- we’ll stay in the environmental interpretation field or in similar paths, or we’ll venture into completely different careers. A few of us will stay close by; the rest will cross state lines. But as we head towards our new experiences, we’ll be taking with us what we’ve learned at this place like no other.