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Meet Development Challenge Past Interns: 2013

Emily Bobrick, 2015, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Project: Field Research at Mpala Research Center
Organization/Location: Mpala Research Center, Kenya
Adviser(s): 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

This summer I worked as an intern at Mpala Research Center in Kenya helping to collect data used to monitor the Center’s wildlife population. Every six months, Mpala performs a rigorous survey of the wildlife population using distance sampling; I collected data for their June and July 2013 samplings. The Center could then compare the data I helped collect with data from a more easily executed survey the rangers conducted to ascertain whether the ranger-based method was reliable and efficient. I spent early mornings and late afternoons with another Princeton student and some members of the Mpala staff driving along two kilometer-long transects collecting information about species sighted, size of herds, and distance from the road to the animal. The data we collected could then be analyzed using a computer program, Distance, that provided an estimate of the population density of each species at Mpala. I learned a lot about the nature of field work and research, and this internship confirmed my interest in pursuing a research-related career in the future.


Jonathan Choi, 2015, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Project: Impact of Fire and Grazing on Soil Respiration
Organization/Location: Mpala Research Centre, Laikipia District, Kenya
Adviser(s): Professor Kelly Caylor, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Terrestrial world’s soils provide the second largest carbon sink in the world after the oceans. Understanding how these soils give off and take in carbon dioxide as a result of different environmental pressures from grazing and fire is crucial to understanding the role of African savannas in the global carbon budget. This summer, I spent 10 weeks researching the effects of herbivores and fire on various soil properties in the Laikipia District of Kenya at Princeton University’s Mpala Research Center. I used various field methods within the Kenya Long-term Exclosure Experiment (KLEE) to measure a variety of different soil properties and their relative role in climate change. I learned a lot about geochemistry and research methods through this internship. My experience at Mpala opened my eyes to the world of academic research and spurred my interest in potentially pursuing a career in academia. While I am unsure if I will continue to focus on soil biology, I’d like to continue exploring the intersection of land use, public policy, and the environment.


Manali Gokhale, 2016, Chemical and Biological Engineering


Project: Reported Modeling of Line Transects Using Distance Sampling
Organization/Location: Mpala Research Centre, Kenya
Adviser(s): 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

During my summer at Mpala Research Centre, I worked to measure the population trends of important wildlife species of the Mpala area. The data collected on the populations of several mammal and bird species, many of which are threatened or endangered, was then compared with previous years as part of an ongoing project. In the future, this data will be compared to data from a newer, ranger-based method of measuring populations, in order to test the effectiveness of the newer method. To collect my data, I would systematically travel in specific paths around Mpala and use rangefinders, compasses, and GPS devices to keep a record of sightings. From my internship, I came away with a greater understanding of the challenges involved in field work, as well as of the ecosystem and conservation efforts surrounding Mpala. The fulfilling nature of carrying out an independent project over the course of my internship encouraged me to continue pursuing research science. As a chemical engineering major interested in conservation, I found this opportunity to begin contributing to environmental efforts immeasurably rewarding.


Ray Grossman, 2015, Mathematics


Project: UAV's and their Possibilites for Ecology
Organization/Location: Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
Adviser(s): Lyndon Estes, Associate Research Scholar, Woodrow Wilson School and the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy. Lecturer in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

I spent most of my summer working with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and studying their possible applications for ecology. First, I assisted with a project that used a UAV to take aerial photos of a cranberry bog, and stitched the photos together using software. Later, we hope to calculate the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) of the photos, which is essentially a measure of the amount of chlorophyll in various plots, representative of their overall health. Additionally, I worked on a literature review that looked at current studies in ecology and identified their spatial and temporal scope, to identify possible gaps in collected ecological data. Finally, I spent some time learning how to pilot a UAV, so I could continue the project over the school year when one of the graduate students had left.


Eliza Harkins, 2014, Civil and Environmental Engineering


Project: Water Use and Governance in the Mount Kenya Region
Organization/Location: Princeton Environmental Institute, Kenya
Adviser(s): Professor Kelly Caylor, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

The goal of my project was to examine the current water systems of 25 rural communities and, from there, create models and predictions of future water availability for those communities, factoring in climate change and increased agricultural activity. My personal role in the project centered on the physical and hydrological concerns. On the one hand, I was responsible for creating GPS maps of each community, and I also helped in the conception and collection of pipe flow measurements. On the other hand, I was creating documents that succinctly summarized our projects for the communities and outlined the methodologies and equipment we were using. Through this internship, I learned technical skills such as how to use GIS software; but beyond that I learned about the practicalities of scientific research in real communities, how to balance social and engineering sciences, and how to fit the needs of the research with the desires of the community. Working with a team of PhD students has led me to consider pursuing additional academic, furthering my education after my undergraduate degree.


Kelsey Kane-Ritsch, 2016, Undeclared


Project: Teaching Assistant for Conservation Clubs
Organization/Location: Northern Kenyan Conservation Clubs, Kenya
Adviser(s): 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

During the summer of 2013 I worked in Kenya as a teaching assistant at 10 schools with the Northern Kenyan Conservation Clubs¬—after-school programs that provide students with an understanding of the natural world and the impact that humans have on their environment. The communities in which I taught depend on the land for survival and have experienced severe environmental degradation due to a lack of education in resource management. As a teacher with the clubs, I helped design lesson plans that addressed key local environmental issues through hands-on activities and experiential learning. I brought the students outside for lessons that ranged from studying the great significance of insects to teaching the students how to end erosion in their own school compound. In addition, I helped make a lasting impact by exposing the local club teachers to experiential learning methods. This internship has reinforced my belief in the necessity of environmental education. I saw many of my students change from warily acknowledging conservation efforts to eagerly embracing the opportunities that wildlife coexistence offers to their people. This spectacular summer experience has affirmed my intention to pursue a career in the field of environmental conservation.


Imani Oliver, 2014, Psychology


Project: Teaching Assistant for Conservation Clubs
Organization/Location: Northern Kenyan Conservation Clubs
Adviser(s): 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

During the summer of 2013 I interned with Northern Kenyan Conservation Clubs, based in rural Kenya. The goal of our program was to make young Kenyan students the “new stewards of the land,” using experiential learning as the platform to encourage conservation. Each week, another intern and I taught environmental conservation lessons consisting of hands-on model making and field exploration. I showed my students ice for the first time in their lives, making our lesson on glaciers and global warming more comprehensive. I spoke with educators and program coordinators about ways in which environmental education could be integrated permanently into the national curriculum. The culture of student-teacher and student-household relationships seemed to have an impact on receptivity of information for students. It became evident that these teacher-student interactions could positively supplement an already evolving education system. I believe that examining this important relationship together with teaching strategies in Kenya could even help us with public schools in my hometown. Some day, I hope to enter the field of education policy development in the U.S. to make policies that are best for students of all socioeconomic statuses.


Gabrielle Ragazzo, 2015, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Project: Crowdsourced Mapping of African Cropland
Organization/Location: Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
Adviser(s): Lyndon Estes, Associate Research Scholar, Woodrow Wilson School and the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy. Lecturer in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

The overall goal of the Mapping Africa Project is to obtain more accurate data concerning agricultural distribution for Sub-Saharan Africa by using an Internet mapping initiative on Amazon Mechanical Turk website. In this initiative, online workers are shown a series of aerial images and paid to map the fields. This summer I helped assess the accuracy of the Project, and also created a brief tutorial video explaining how to map fields. For the accuracy assessment, I edited a collection of aerial images for South Africa and Zambia by drawing field boundaries within them using the spatial analysis software program Quantum GIS. Those images were compared to the workers’ to determine the accuracy of their mapping. I learned how to use the software programs on a fairly advanced level, as well as how to create a video. I also gained insight as to what it is like to work as a researcher in an office setting. While it was a great experience to be closely involved with such a worthwhile project, this internship made me realize that I would like to try something more hands-on in the future.


Delphine Slotten, 2015, Woodrow Wilson School


Project: Assessing the Impact of Holistic Management on Cattle Health, Vegetation, and Wildlife
Organization/Location: Grevy's Zebra Trust, Kenya
Adviser(s): 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

My internship work was part of a greater study to determine how two different livestock grazing regimes – traditional and “holistic” – affect the health of livestock; the quantity, quality, and diversity of vegetation; and the presence of wildlife in the West Gate Community Conservancy (WGCC) of Samburu County, Kenya. Some pastoralists in West Gate have adopted “holistic management” practices – namely rotational grazing. However, few quantitative assessments have been conducted to determine the impact of these practices on cattle health, vegetation, and wildlife. Thus, with the principle goal of obtaining quantitative data for analysis, I measured the body conditions, movement, and distance travelled, bite/step rates, and parasite loads of representative samples of distinct cattle populations in WGCC. Because we were in West Gate during the dry season and no notable differences in the effects of the two grazing regimes, if any were observed at all, would be observable until the rainy season, my research partner and I also trained two community members to monitor the project and to continue collecting data after our departure. An unparalleled opportunity and an incredibly rewarding experience, this internship has reinforced my desire to work in the fields of development and natural resource management.


Katherine Smith, 2015, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Project: Plant water stress and source: Impacts of herbivory in riparian zones
Organization/Location: Mpala Reserach Centre, Kenya
Adviser(s): Kelly Caylor, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

My project brought together ecology and chemistry, as I worked for both an ecology professor and an engineering professor with an interest in ecohydrology. I spent my time this summer focusing on water; specifically, a river’s interactions with other parts of the ecosystem, including both flora and fauna. I examined the role of grazing on water stress in plants near rivers, as well as the differences in water source in plants located on different bank slopes. On a given day, I would collect soil, grass, and water samples and bring them back to the lab, where I would process the samples to analyze soil moisture and to get an isotopic signature of the water in the plants and soils. These signatures allowed us to quantify the plants’ water sources and their levels of water stress. I learned a great deal about sampling methods and field research biology, both through my project and through other researchers at the center. This project opened my eyes to potential job opportunities, both in formal academia and in managing projects for professors after graduation. I am looking forward to doing more fieldwork as research for my senior thesis, particularly ecological fieldwork with an emphasis on conservation.