Thanks to Doug and Mari Hill Harpur '67, two Westover students had a chance to do environmental science research in the Quebec wilderness in August.
Two Westover Students Intern at a 66,000-Acre Laboratory in Canada
Thanks to the generosity of Mari Hill Harpur '67 and her husband Doug, Elizabeth Cook '19 and Ryan Heard '19 were given a hands-on opportunity to do environmental science research in a pristine corner of the Canadian wilderness last August.
For both Elizabeth and Ryan, their week-long experiences at the Kenauk Institute in Western Quebec were not only memorable but possibly life-changing.
"Honestly, this was the best week of my life," Ryan said. "This is what I want to do for the rest of my life." Ryan plans to major in environmental studies in college. "I knew I wanted to go into biology" and the internship – working alongside three other high school students as they assisted five college students who were conducting summer-long research projects – only deepened Ryan's commitment to pursue a career in the field.
"I've learned that I really love working with, and learning about, animals," Elizabeth said, "and something involving environmental science or biology could be in my future. I've also learned how much fun field work can be, and I'd love to do more of it in college."
Elizabeth added that the internship was "a wonderful opportunity not only to learn about data collection and college-level research projects, but also to put away electronics, get to know a great group of people, and enjoy the great outdoors while you're at it."
Westover was offered two intern positions at Kenauk by Mari and Doug, who is chair of the institute's Board of Directors. The Harpurs have a lifelong commitment to environmental preservation; in 2017 Mari received the Westover Award for her preservation efforts. The Harpurs helped establish the institute as a center for ecological studies on 66,000 acres, with more than 60 lakes, forests, and a variety of plant life and animal species. A permanent research establishment has been created at Kenauk "to establish a baseline inventory of biodiversity and monitor the property with a 100-year time horizon," according to the institute's website. "With time, Kenauk will become a laboratory for monitoring climate change and human impacts."
"Working with Westover's administrators, faculty, and students fits completely within the mission of The Kenauk Institute – to support, coordinate, and supervise scientific research, involve local schools in environmental education, and connect Kenauk with the broader community," Mari said. "We are glad Westover's student interns and faculty who visited the Institute this past summer experienced firsthand the valuable work the Institute is doing, and we believe they will be inspired to carry on at Westover with the same commitment to environmental programs that we foster here, and not just in the classroom but in Westover's woodlands, for decades to come."
During their internship, Elizabeth said, "Each day we'd shadow a different college intern, sometimes with another high school student and sometimes alone. We'd return around lunch time and grab a bite to eat before heading off to collect more data, helping with a different project, or having some leisure time." After dinner, they would hang out as a group, playing cards and talking until bed.
For the college students' research projects, the high school interns helped collect data for pollinator populations, the presence of micro-plastics in several water sources, catch-and-release techniques in bass fishing, analyzing bat frequencies to identify species, and sorting dragonfly larvae under a microscope.
For Ryan, a resident of Jersey City, New Jersey, Kenauk offered "a bunch of new experiences. I had never been camping, and this was also my first time kayaking, fishing, riding in a motorboat, paddle boarding, and snorkeling." Ryan wishes the internship could have lasted longer, to spend more time with each research project.
For Elizabeth, "my favorite project was probably catching and tagging bass because I had never fished before and it was really fun to actually handle the fish. I never knew that their teeth feel like sandpaper and it was really neat to be able to see the inside of their mouth. It was also exhilarating to climb the fire tower for the first time when we were setting up the bat-frequency readers. The most challenging part was feeling responsible for collecting data, using the same standards that the college interns had. The college interns were very trusting and I was nervous that I'd mess something up, but all of the students showed us exactly how to do everything and they were very helpful and open to all of our questions."
Elizabeth and Ryan weren't the only Westover visitors to the Kenauk Institute this summer. In early July, Science Department Chair Jana Dunbar and science teachers Heather Mannella Nuzzo '91, Maggie Nunez-Fernandez '98, and Sarah Michaelson visited the site. During their stay, they had a chance to tour the institute, see the research projects being undertaken, and meet with two teachers from Bishop's College School and share ideas and opportunities on how to use their schools' campuses for ongoing science research projects.
"The idea," Jana explained, "was to get our two schools together to see how we might use our campuses to do more environmental work – research, labs, clubs, etc. – perhaps modeling some of our work on what they do at Kenauk."
Ryan Heard '19 (left) and Elizabeth Cook '19 with other student interns at the Kenauk Institute in Quebec in August 2019.