Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Life Aquatic 2012 - Introducing Clay

A Look at U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Seasonal STEP Employee Experiences through A Fish-Eye Lens

Greetings! I’m Clay Showalter, a Student Temporary Employee Program (STEP) fisheries technician with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Lacey, Washington. I’ve been studying computer science and field ecology at The Evergreen State College (TESC) for 3 years.

I grew up in the woods of Kansas where rip-roarin’ bass fishing and beautiful landscapes inspired me to learn more about the ecology of the area. I began to discover that the more I learned, the deeper I could appreciate the beauty and complexity of the natural world. I also learned that many ecosystems are being threatened by habitat loss and toxification.

I enrolled at TESC after high school and initially focused on computer science, math and physics. However, the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest was a constant reminder that I didn’t want to be stuck in an office my entire career. I then discovered the field of eco-informatics, which applies computer science techniques to field ecology. Field sampling by day and analyzing data by night convinced me that my future career should involve being outside and working to protect our natural resources.

This summer’s work experience with the FWS will include collecting field data and focusing on education and outreach through the Youth Fisheries Academy program. My work with the FWS offers an incredible opportunity to apply what I have learned, build on previous experience and pass on my knowledge and love of the outdoors to local youth. I have always been interested in teaching because education and outreach are essential for ensuring that future generations are conscious of the challenges that we are facing. While travelling and working on field projects in Ecuador last year, I was thrilled to gain experience teaching children about ecological issues relevant to their communities.

The Youth Fisheries Academy program here in Washington offers similar opportunities to plant seeds in the minds of youth that we all share some responsibility for the environment around us and that a career in field biology is one of many ways to make a difference in the ecosystems we rely on.

I am excited for this great opportunity and look forward to seeing what the summer will bring!


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

USFWS Internship - Spring 2012 Outreach & Education - Part 2

Zach Moore
More about my outreach and education experiences . . . .

The final assignment for spring quarter involved teaching Komachin Middle School students about the use of technology in biological field work during their field trips at Tolmie State Park. I hosted a radio-telemetry activity with the students in the forest section of the park, starting off by introducing the equipment, explaining how it works, and discussing how the data gathered with the equipment is used for conservation work. After that brief introduction, it was all hands-on fun as the students played a game of radio telemetry “hide-and-seek”. For this game, one or two students put on radio collars (representing “wild" animals), while the rest of the group searched for them using antennas and receivers. This was the most fun outreach project of my internship and each group of students really enjoyed the activity. By the end of the lesson, I could swear that some of the students could use the equipment as well as I could. This was a great way to take today’s tech-savvy students and connect those skills to nature and conservation.

Zach describing radio-telemetry equipment
Because the environmental education-based classes that I had taken at The Evergreen State College (TESC) never really gave me a chance to do any real teaching with students, these outreach experiences were extremely beneficial for me. After getting a few lessons under my belt, I began to feel more comfortable in front of students and teaching began to get easier. I soon developed techniques to make each lesson work effectively and my confidence in front of a student audience grew. I ended up providing a diverse curriculum to over 600 elementary and middle school students during this spring quarter! The feedback I received from my supervisor, other educators, and students was all very positive.

I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was fun, rewarding, and only strengthened my desire to pursue this field of work. I plan on taking more education-type classes during my next 2 years at TESC and seeking out similar experience-building opportunities in the future!

--Zach Moore, USFWS Intern/Fisheries Technician

Thursday, July 12, 2012

USFWS Internship - Spring 2012 Education and Outreach - Part 1

Zach Moore
One of the great aspects about my internship with the Washington Fish and Wildlife Office (USFWS) Fisheries Division has been the diversity of experiences I have had working with multiple USFWS biologists and technicians. While my last two blog posts focused on biological field work, I also participated in a variety of education and outreach work. It would be difficult to understate the importance of this line of work. From an academic standpoint, it aligns perfectly with my environmental education major. From a professional standpoint, I am aware of the emphasis the USFWS places on connecting people with nature. Having these skills will strengthen my resume and, from a personal standpoint, it has been a great experience sharing my love for and knowledge of the outdoors with the next generation.

My first outreach assignment involved teaching fish anatomy to several groups of students. The dissections were definitely one of my favorite activities--they generated a lot of excitement from everyone. Even students who were hesitant to participate at first ended up inspecting and passing around salmon organs before the lesson was over. Most of the kids left the lesson really excited about what they had learned about fish biology.

Fish dissection
My next assignment involved leading students in several activities designed to teach them about salmon life history during their class field trip visits to Quilcene National Fish Hatchery. For one activity, students constructed bracelets with beads that represented the various stages, migration, habitats, and hazards of the salmon life cycle. This was a great example of how you can teach biology through art. Another activity focused on how salmon rely on their sense of smell to navigate back to their natal (home) stream to spawn. For this activity, students were blindfolded and introduced to a scent that represented their natal stream. Participants then made a migration, attempting to find their home stream using their sense of smell. This activity really helped students understand a biological process that is very awe-inspiring.

To be continued . . .

--Zach Moore, USFWS Intern/Fisheries Technician