Summer Students Conduct Hands-On Research
During One-of-a-Kind Climate Science Internship
Written by Toni Salama
Summer in West Texas has come to be a busy time for Texas Tech University's Climate Science Center. For the third June in a row, a special group of undergrads spent a week on and off the Lubbock campus learning hands-on about water and climate challenges specific to West Texas and the impact of environmental conditions on the local farming economy.
The 10 students came from universities across the south-central United States, and their stay here was part of the three-week, multi-state Climate Science Summer Intern Program that included field research in the marshlands of coastal Louisiana, the sustainable forests of southeastern Oklahoma, and at Lubbock's playa lakes and cotton fields.
It's all part of a five-year grant intended to encourage minority and non-science undergraduates to consider a career in climate science. Each year, the interns spend a week with faculty at Louisiana State University, a week with faculty at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma, and a week at Texas Tech.
The four schools formed a consortium of university partners to work in tandem with the federally mandated South Central Climate Science Center, one of eight such centers nationwide established by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The South Central university consortium is the only one to offer a summer internship program.
John Zak, Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and Co-director of TTU's Climate Science Center, was on the consortium team that initiated the grant and hosts the students. "Tech benefits by bringing students to campus as potential recruits for grad school," Zak said, "and by helping develop a network of students across the region who understand what our faculty are doing."
Other Tech faculty who worked with the interns were:
- Regan Anders, Manager of TTU's Quaker Avenue Research Farm.
- Guofeng Cao, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geosciences and Co-director of TTU's Center for Geospatial Technology.
- Katharine Hayhoe, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Director of TTU's Climate Science Center.
- Reynaldo Patiño, Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of Natural Resources Management, and Leader of the Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit.
- Patricia Solís, Research Associate Professor in the Department of Geosciences and Director of the Mapping for Resilience University Consortium.
- Jennifer Vanos, Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science in the Department of Geosciences.
Some of the TTU graduates students who played a role in the program included:
- Ian Flemming-Scott, a research associate at TTU's Climate Science Center.
- Seydou Toé, a master's student in the Department of Natural Resources Management.
- Pablo Tovar, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biology.
- Diana Vargas-Gutierrez, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biology.
Quoting the Interns
Ten undergraduates are accepted as Climate Science Summer Interns each year, and the program receives between 40 and 50 applications, John Zak, Professor of Biology and Co-Director of TTU's Climate Science Center, said.
Applications for the 2017 South Central Climate Science Summer Internship will be accepted through the South Central Climate Science Center beginning in March 2017. Those who are selected can look forward to experiences like those of previous participants.
Here's what nine of the 2016 students had to say about their Climate Science Summer Intern experience:
Agricultural Communications Junior, Texas Tech University
On the program: We took sediment cores and tested water quality.
On the locations: The Louisiana coast is losing land, and people have to wear rain boots to get from the parking lot to their jobs. With rising water levels, in 20 years, LUMCON (Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium) will be under water.
On her future: I want to help farmers understand climate change and will communicate with them through organizations like the FFA and Rotary Club.
Mechanical Engineering Junior, Texas Tech University
On the program: The average engineering student doesn't get to do this. I've gotten to know every aspect of climate change, not just hear about it. You get to meet people from all different cultures and different majors. I wish I had done it earlier.
On the locations: At LUMCON, we went out in marsh boats and took sediment cores and water samples. We went to Louisiana State University; Oklahoma State University; a forest in Idabel, Okla.; a bio station at the University of Oklahoma; Lake Texoma; and finished up at Texas Tech.
On his future: Our generation are the people who are actually going to have to do something about climate change. I'm from Houston, and it is a place where you see some of these climate changes happening in a high-population area.
International Economics Senior, Texas Tech University
On the program: It's literally hands-on: You get your hands dirty taking soil cores and tree cores. I really liked the interdisciplinary approach.
On the locations: We were in places where we met people from the USDA and the Nature Conservancy, and we could see how the samples we took fit into the greater scheme of things.
On her future: The program was formative for me. I learned why what I study matters to my career.
Physics Junior, University of Texas at El Paso
On the program: I never thought I'd be able to do research, take samples, make sense of the data, and meet top professors in the field.
On the locations: We had the opportunity of seeing how people adapt to different climates in different locations. Now I understand the issues of the people living in each area.
On his future: My interest is in atmospheric physics with a meteorology tie-in, so I was looking for how other fields do their research and get their data. This program allowed me to 1.) collaborate across disciplines to solve problems, and 2.) learn that I have to be able to connect to the general public.
Meteorology Junior, University of Oklahoma
On the program: The session with Katharine Hayhoe was truly informative. She brought it all together by giving us analogies she uses to communicate climate change to the general public.
On the locations: Going out in the field was important. In the Louisiana wetlands, I saw that even a few inches more water makes a difference. In Oklahoma, I learned a lot about forestry and rain and wind. In Texas, I learned a little about agriculture.
On her future: I had heard about climate change, but now I know how it affects different areas and people differently.
Environmental Science Junior, University of Houston
On the program: I liked doing measurements on water quality, salinity, conductivity and temperature.
On the locations: We were outdoors a lot, especially in the marshes in Louisiana.
On her future: I always liked science and math, and I like being outdoors some. This program helped me realize I can have both the science and the outdoors as a civil or environmental engineer. I wasn't really thinking about grad school till now.
Environmental Science Junior, Haskell Indian Nations University
On the program: I really learned a lot from Katharine Hayhoe's presentation. We also learned about soil, microbes, and tilling the land, and about fresh water and sewage in Lubbock. Afterwards, we swam in Buffalo Lakes only to learn that it is basically a sewer.
On the locations: I'd never been to Louisiana so it was cool seeing the marshes—knowing that they are disappearing—and seeing first-hand all the levy systems. It also was interesting in Oklahoma to learn about how to manage forests and conduct controlled fires.
On her future: Texas Tech gave a good first impression.
Coastal & Environmental Science Senior, Louisiana State University
On the program: The experience was exhausting: We were extremely busy the whole time.
On the locations: The experience was enlightening: We encountered so many different facets of climate change and how it affects different people.
On her future: The experience was invigorating: I got to see everyone's passions, and that makes me want to find mine.
Applied Mathematics Senior, University of New Orleans
On the program: As an applied mathematics major, I appreciated being able to calculate the data we collected in the field and conduct data analysis.
On the locations: There are some communities in Louisiana that are still affected by Hurricane Katrina. Here at Texas Tech, I observed how important water resources are and how it is essential to both conserve water and to grow more crops.
On her future: Before, I didn't know much about climate change or its implications. Now I see the importance of sustainable resources.