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Meet Development Grand Challenge Past Interns: 2011

Nisha Bhat, 2014, Undeclared


Project: Empowering Disadvantaged Youth through Educational Programs

Organization/Location: IkamvaYouth, South Africa

Advisers: S. George Philander, Knox Taylor Professor of Geosciences; Carl Palmer, University of Cape Town; Neville Sweijd, The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

I was an intern at IkamvaYouth, a township-based nonprofit organization in Cape Town, South Africa. IkamvaYouth aims to equip disadvantaged youth with the ­resources and skills necessary to access higher education and/or employment. I assisted in ­organizing and ­running the organization’s annual Winter School—a two-week program that ­provides learners with tutoring sessions, career development workshops, and HIV/AIDS ­education and testing. I contacted local organizations and universities willing to ­partner with ­IkamvaYouth as well as facilitated environmental sustainability classes. I also assisted in collecting data that will eventually be used to evaluate ­IkamvaYouth’s ­effectiveness in ­assisting learners to achieve future financial stability. Through this ­internship, I was able to better understand the role of educational NGOs in economic development. The leaders and learners of IkamvaYouth were enthusiastic and dynamic, and I learned a great deal during my time there. This internship truly opened my eyes to the many obstacles to education that youth in townships face, and I learned how nonprofit organizations like IkamvaYouth attempt to eliminate these obstacles. (See presentation.)


Nicole Bornkamp, 2014, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Project: Climate Change, Agriculture, and Pressure on Biodiversity in South Africa

Organization/Location: Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

Adviser: Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School; David Wilcove, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School.

"I interned in the Woodrow Wilson School’s STEP program assisting a post-doctoral ­researcher with his studies concerning South African climate change and it’s effect on crop production. The goal of the project was to determine which areas were the most productive for crops and how these areas’ productivity levels have changed as the climate has. (Our findings were presented late summer at a symposium in South ­Africa.) This allows researchers to develop a model to determine which areas can be used in the future for agriculture. My role in the project was to work on various ­computer programs to reach a conclusion about the accuracy of crop data points by ­observing graphical models and pixel resolution. This information allowed me to ­correctly ­examine the crops’ growth progression through the years and present the ­visual data to the post-doctoral researcher. The internship allowed me to get a first hand look at biodiversity, climate change, and agriculture in a particularly variable region, as well as become proficient with statistical computer programs. It greatly increased my interest in environmental studies and gave me a great look into the intricacies of this developmental challenge in South Africa." (See presentation)


Steven Fuchs, 2013, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Project: Implications of Water Quality on Fish Metabolic Rates

Organization/Location: Rhodes University, South Africa

Adviser: Tony Booth, Rhodes University

One of the great things about my time in Grahamstown, South Africa was that every day was different. Most of my time was spent working on Professor Booth’s ­respirometry ­project, but I was also given the opportunity to assist graduate students on their ­individual projects. My primary project involved studying the rate at which various ­Eastern Cape stream fish consume oxygen. Some other projects that I contributed to involved ­studying the eating habits of pompano fish and studying patterns in the ­movement of ­sharp-toothed catfish. I rarely worked from a desk and spent most of my time in the lab or doing fieldwork in freshwater ecosystems nearby. Additionally, I had time to travel around the country and was able to spend a few days in Cape Town and some days in national parks like Addo National Elephant Park. Over the course of my trip I was always on my toes and was challenged both academically and socially. (See presentation.)


Kieryn Graham, 2013, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Project: Controlling Alien and Monitoring Reintroduced Species

Organization/Location: Gondwana Canyon Park, Namibia

Advisers: Sue Cooper and Trygve Cooper, Gondwana Canyon Park

I spent my time as a Development Challenge intern in Gondwana Canyon Park in southern Namibia. My primary objective was to gain experience in nature conservation and monitoring and management strategies in Namibia. As part of my internship, I wrote a proposal which looked at the number, sexes, and ranging patterns of leopards in the park and included suggestions for future leopard monitoring efforts in the area. The work I began will be continued in the future and my proposal will be available for viewing on the Environmental Information Service, Namibia website. I also spent my time collecting and analyzing camera-trap data, helping out in routine fence patrols and participating in the Park’s annual game count. (See presentation.)


Alexandra Kasdin, 2014, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Project: The Impact of Mpala’s Conservation Clubs

Organization/Location: Northern Kenya Conservation Clubs, Mpala Research Centre, Kenya

Adviser: Daniel Rubenstein, Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Chair, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Director, Program in African Studies; Nancy Rubenstein, Northern Kenya Conservation Clubs

This summer, I worked as an environmental education teaching assistant in ­Northern ­Kenya, in areas ravaged by overgrazing and drought. Our goal was to educate ­Kenyan primary school students about the natural world and to show them that they can ­transform their landscape through simple environmental stewardship. We ­created interactive lessons that illustrated concepts such as biodiversity, habitats, the ­water cycle, and adaptation. I created new lesson plans for the environmental ­education program and taught the students for an hour every weekday at five ­different ­primary schools. Through this experience, I came to the conclusion that ­environmental ­education is key to any conservation effort. Environmental education at the most ­elementary level is the starting point for this understanding. My time in Africa confirmed that I enjoy working with people and researching topics that involve people, such as how humans and the environment interact and affect one another. For example, I discovered I might enjoy studying eco-tourism, an example of the crossover between humans and the environment. After my experiences in Kenya and realizations about the importance of environmental education, I can also see myself spearheading environmental education efforts in the future. (See presentation.)


Veronika Lipkova, 2014, Undeclared


Project: Empowering Disadvantaged Youth through Educational Programs

Organization/Location: IkamvaYouth, South Africa

Advisers: S. George Philander, Knox Taylor Professor of Geosciences; Carl Palmer, University of Cape Town; Neville Sweijd, The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

My summer internship with IkamvaYouth was designed to help me understand and act on the challenges that an educational NGO is faced with. As an educational intern in their branch in Khayelitsha Township, I primarily worked on Winter School, a two-week long project aimed at improving the learners’ school performance. I assisted in the design of the program, which brought together many specialists from different ­backgrounds. They carried out a range of workshops that focused mostly on tutoring and career ­guidance. I also assisted with data collection for a sustainability study, which in the future will help IkamvaYouth support their requests for grants. This experience gave me a ­perspective on South Africa’s educational system and life in the township, and it also gave me a taste of what it feels like to be a complete alien in a very special ­community. This ­internship primarily showed me that the township learners have enormous potential and great ­desire to learn, and when given an opportunity, they will seize it. This experience, therefore, made me reconsider my career choice and look in the direction of public policy and economics.


Kathleen Ryan, 2014, Geosciences


Project: An Ecohydrological Framework for Understanding Land Degradation in Dry Ecosystems

Organization/Location: Princeton University, Kenya

Adviser: Kelly Caylor, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Keir Soderberg, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Civil and Environmental Engineering

At the Princeton Ecohydrology lab at the Mpala Research Center, Kenya, my ­colleagues and I sought to learn more about how vegetation, water, and the atmosphere all ­interact to create the climactic conditions characteristic of the dryland ecosystem we were ­living in. I was given the task of gathering and synthesizing rainfall data. By calibrating old and new rain gauges, correcting existing rainfall data, and creating a database with more than 40 years of daily rainfall measurements, I sought to make our existing rainfall data more useful. I also started a research project in which an air parcel trajectory program, HYSPLIT, made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Air Research Laboratory, is being used to show the trajectory of rainstorms experienced at Mpala, in order to get a better sense of how storm trajectory affects the isotopic signature of the rain water. Using the experimental skills I learned this summer, I hope to continue ­pursuing a career in environmental field research. (See presentation.)


Hannah Safford, 2013, Chemical and Biological Engineering


Project: An Ecohydrological Framework for Understanding Land Degradation in Dry Ecosystems

Organization/Location: Mpala Research Center, Kenya

Adviser: Kelly Caylor, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Keir Soderberg, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Civil and Environmental Engineering

I spent eleven weeks in the Caylor Ecohydrology Lab, located at the Mpala Research Center in the highlands of central Kenya, helping to understand and model the ­hydrologic cycle of dry savanna ecosystems. A key component of this process is the analysis of ­water vapor in the air over the savannah. I oversaw an extended laboratory experiment that used a technique called isotope fractionation to track water ­percolating through ­buckets filled with savannah soil. In addition to becoming familiar with the scientific ­theory ­behind ­isotope fractionation, I learned how to wire dataloggers for the ­simultaneous ­automated operation of many different sensors, and became more experienced with writing ­computer programs to process collected data. Though my home ­department is chemical and ­biological engineering, spending the summer interning in a civil ­engineering lab provided me with valuable insight into the many ways in which the two areas ­overlap. I enjoyed the opportunity to branch out into a new field, and look forward to participating in more interdisciplinary projects in the future! (See presentation.)


Alice Suh, 2012, Civil and Environmental Engineering


Project: Ecohydrology and Vegetation Structure in Dryland Ecosystems

Organization/Location: Princeton University, Kenya

Advisers: Kelly Caylor, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Keir Soderberg, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Civil and Environmental Engineering

I spent the summer at Mpala Research Center and Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya as an intern at the Princeton Ecohydrology Lab. As one of three undergraduate ­interns, I assisted Professor Kelly Caylor and Dr. Keir Soderberg with the lab’s ­ongoing ­research on the hydrological cycle in the semi-arid savannah, and its interaction with ­dryland ecosystems. This research involves the long-term monitoring of rainfall, ­vegetation, and soil moisture, including the analysis of isotope signatures in water ­samples ­collected in the field. My focus was on conducting and improving the monitoring of ­vegetation. I conducted several types of vegetation monitoring transects at key ­locations around Mpala, and developed a non-destructive procedure for measuring ­above-ground ­biomass. I also performed comparisons of instruments used for ­measuring leaf ­water potential and stomatal conductance, which will inform future protocol for ­monitoring water stress and transpiration as well as research in isotope fractionation during transpiration under various degrees of water stress. (See presentation.)


Alana Tornello, 2012, Comparative Literature


Project: Enhancing Livelihood Practices in the Keiskamma River Basin

Organization/Location: Rhodes University Environmental Learning Research Center, South Africa

Adviser: Robert O’Donoghue, Rhodes University

My internship was sponsored by the Environmental Learning Research Centre at Rhodes University, where I worked with PEI intern Lilia Xie to create multimedia vignettes for two rural villages in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. These short videos and photo montages shared the stories of local artists and community leaders who have ­initiated programs to celebrate their unique local environments through art, ­conservation, and other realms of development. In the village of Hamburg, we created a series of ­videos narrated by the local artists in the Keiskamma Art Project. The artists explained how their works conserve their landscape and healthy living traditions. In the village of Cata, we made videos featuring village locals who described their conservation work to other members of the village, which created a unique type of environmental ­education. I was also able to illustrate a fun poster that has directions for the use of a compost toilet that was recently constructed in the village. I was inspired by the strong ­leaders that we met in local communities, clinics, academia, NGOs, and even in ­personal households. I was able to assist in their visions for a better community through my ­ethnographic work, video editing, illustrations, and simple desire to listen and share their passions with a wider community. (See presentation | video.)


Hannah Vazquez, 2013, Comparative Literature


Project: Maximizing the Survival of the Grevy’s Zebra

Organization/Location: African Wildlife Foundation, Kenya

Advisers: Lital Levy, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature; Paul Muoria, African Wildlife Foundation

The Development Grand Challenge internship in which I participated took place ­primarily in the Samburu Heartland, a region in north central Kenya. I worked with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and Earthwatch on the Grevy’s Zebra Project, a conservation project that aims at identifying and mitigating threats to Grevy’s Zebra survival in order to contribute to a viable Grevy’s Zebra population. My time in Kenya was divided between the AWF office in Nanyuki and field work in Wamba and the neighboring conservancies. My supervisor was Dr. Paul Muoria, the head scientist on the Grevy’s Zebra Project, but most of my work was done in close collaboration with Paul Gacheru, an AWF volunteer currently obtaining his master’s degree.


Lilia Xie, 2014, Undeclared


Project: Enhancing Livelihood Practices in the Keiskamma River Basin

Organization/Location: Environmental Learning Research Centre, Rhodes University, South Africa

Advisers: Robert O’Donoghue, Rhodes University; Ashley Westaway, Border Rural Committee

During my internship with the Environmental Learning Research Centre at Rhodes ­University, I worked with fellow PEI intern Alana Tornello to create a range of ­multimedia for the two villages of Hamburg and Cata in the Eastern Cape province of South ­Africa. The aim of the internship was to enable the locals’ stories about the ­environment to reach a wider audience within and beyond their communities. In Hamburg, we ­created a series of videos narrated by the local artists in the Keiskamma Art Project. The artists explained how their works depicting unique features of the landscape are ­connected to the ­environment at large. In Cata, I made videos featuring the voices of the ­village’s guides, who are a group of young locals with a deep knowledge of the area’s ­characteristics. The guides described the local environment and explained what other villagers could do to preserve it. The audience for these videos includes local high school students, visitors, and environmental science students. In addition to ­honing my skills in photography and editing video, I was lucky enough not only to observe how the cultural atmosphere of a place impacts environmental change, but also to aid in the empowerment of local leaders to make a difference in the places they know best. (See presentation.)


Engineers without Borders, Ghana


Buse Aktas, 2014, Mechanical Engineering

Jeremy Blair, 2013, Chemical Engineering

Cole Freeman, 2014, Structural Engineering

Elizabeth O’Grady, 2013, Civil Engineering

Akhil Reddy, 2013, Mechanical Engineering

Engineers Without Borders- Princeton University (EWB-PU) is a student run ­organization which partners with developing communities around the world to work on ­sustainable ­development projects. For the Ghana School Library Initiative, one project run by ­EWB-PU, members are designing and organizing the construction of a sustainable ­community library in the slums of Ashaiman, Ghana. In the Summer of 2011, ­EWB-PU sent 5 ­Princeton students to Ashaiman on a capstone implementation trip for the ­community library at the Evangelical Presbyterian Basic School. The summer’s work ­consisted of ­logistical planning, materials acquisition, and work force mobilization ­necessary for the successful completion of the structure as well as the development of an ­effective ­library management system for the donated books. In addition, members ­conducted ­necessary education and training programs with students and school staff in order to ensure the proper use and maintenance of the provided resources. In the end, over 7000 books and 37 “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) laptops were successfully deployed in the Achieving Greater Heights Community Library. (See video.)