Lily Hearn, Tahj Cortes Crofton, and Mario Owens Navarro have been working with PRI scientists on research tackling some of the most pressing environmental issues. This group of undergraduate students was part of the first cohort of the Illinois State Geological Survey's Paul Edwin Potter Internship Program.
"This internship is a broad look into four environmental geology topics in which we are seeing and partaking in different data collection processes and seeing start to finish how the data is used and who it is being used by. There is a mix of field days and office days with many conversations with other geology researchers who all have incredible amounts of knowledge and expertise," said Navarro.
Hearn, Crofton, and Navarro have been immersed in a wide variety of research happening at ISGS. The interns have been learning about how land use, hydrogeology, geochemistry, and wetlands science are intertwined with many of the ISGS research areas and activities.
"This year’s Potter internship has been a fantastic opportunity to introduce some students to the world of applied geosciences," said Jason Thomason, section head of the hydrogeology and geophysics group, "Taj, Lily, and Mario never hesitated at a new challenge, a new learning opportunity, and it was fun to observe how each student responded to concepts and tasks that particularly interested them. This was a great group of students to kick off what should be a wonderful annual internship program."
Together, they have been participating in the 10-week environmental geology internship program with two-week modules on major ISGS programs.
"This internship has given me quite a bit of clarity on what career paths I want to explore more, said Crofton, "It's a unique opportunity to get a glimpse at a broad scope of careers in the geological field and it's also been a great chance for me to strengthen my resume, writing skills, and communication. I've never seen anything quite like it and I would recommend it to anyone interested in geology."
They have participated in site assessments for contamination, a subsurface geophysical survey, and groundwater sampling. They have even visited the Illinois industrial carbon capture and storage (CCS) site in Decatur to observe the industrial setting and project monitoring infrastructure needed for a commercial-scale CCS project.
"I think this internship has been a great opportunity to connect with people who are passionate about geology and the environment, which has really pushed me to extend my studies with it. Plus, I have gained experience in different kinds of field and office work which has helped me narrow down the possibilities of the career path I want to follow," said Hearn.
Left to Right: Alex Sanchez, Lily Hearn, Tahj Crofton, Hongyu Xiao, Anthony Gaeti, and Jason Thomason. Photo credit: Chris Stohr
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Additionally, the interns traveled to the George B. Fell Nature Preserve in Ogle County to assist with the collection of groundwater field data and to Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve in Cook County, where geochemical and hydrological monitoring over the last two decades has helped inform site management decisions, large water management projects, wetlands restoration, and efforts to mitigate effects to the preserve from adjacent mining and development.
"The best part of my Potter internship would have to be our overnight trip during the geochemistry module. We got to traverse through George B. Fell Nature Preserve and while it was brutal getting to be somewhere where very few people get to be, was exhilarating and I am very fortunate. I have a lot more respect for data collection now," said Navarro. "The wide range of experiences that we've been able to experience not only were a great deal of fun, but they will also pave the way for future opportunities; and as my career search continues, I will have many impressive skills even if they are surface level that will hopefully grab the attention of a future employer."
Lastly, the interns participated in ongoing wetlands geology research while gaining field experience in assessing potential Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly larval habitat along a roadway project in Cook County and by collecting water level data from a wetland compensation site in Will County. The Potter interns also assisted in water sampling at a study site at the County Line Preserve in Boone County and bioswale sites along the Illinois Tollway. There, they gained hands-on experience in data collection techniques and discussed how geologic and hydrologic information is used to provide information for agencies to support environmental policy goals.
"Lily, Tahj, Mario, and I had several discussions about how geoscience can inform environmental policies. It was clear during our conversations that each of them cares deeply about responsible stewardship of water resources, wetlands, and streams and wants to use their talents toward that goal," said Geoffrey Pociask, associate scientist and wetlands geology section head, "It was also great to see the interns identifying the links in the process—from the hard work of collecting field data to data analysis, to ultimately providing the science to inform decisions regarding the management of natural resources."
Looking ahead, principal research scientist, Randy Locke believes the ISGS Potter Internship Program holds immense promise for the participants as they embark on their careers.
"We've been given an incredible opportunity through the ISGS Potter Internship Program to work with students who will be the next generation of environmental professionals. Those skills have broad applicability, and the interns have seen how information and assessments from the ISGS are used throughout Illinois for natural resource management and protection. I think one of the biggest benefits for the interns is the relationships they’ve developed with practitioners, researchers, and other environmental leaders who are now personal resources for them as they explore their career paths."