By Allie Ahern, TeenNat Intern
|Allie examines a specimen near Pepperwood's Double Ponds.
It’s strange for me to think that, as the month of July approaches, it will have been almost exactly a year since the day I started my internship at Pepperwood Preserve. It feels as if no time has passed at all. I can easily imagine it was only yesterday that I was making an observation, finding GPS coordinates, and uploading my photographs onto iNaturalist.com. It’s also extremely strange for me to think that I’ll soon be entering my senior year in high school and that, in a few brief months, I will need to make a larger decision than I’ve made in all my life: to choose the area of study that I will supposedly pursue for a lifelong career, and which university I will go to to study it.
Luckily, my experience in TeenNat has made that choice a little bit easier for me.
|Allie (right) and other TeenNat interns at Pepperwood.
Before the internship, I did have a genuine interest in science and nature. In my freshman year biology class I had taken part in the UC Davis CAMEOS (Coastal, Atmospheric, & Marine Environmental Observing Studies) program, collaborating with classmates to design and implement our own experiment. (Ours, interestingly enough, was on cyanobacteria. It kind of worked out).
|Photo by Allie Ahern.
For four years, I had been on my schools’ running teams, and training runs took me up and down the beautiful trails of Annadel State Park. While I was running I not only got to be surrounded by nature, but enjoyed feeling as if I was part of it. My love for the outdoors is ultimately what drew me to the TeenNat program.
A whole new world of investigative science was opened to me at Pepperwood. We were told that even the tiniest observations were significant. Nobody thought it was the slightest bit strange for Celeste (Pepperwood's Preserve Technician) and I to be crouched on the ground for ten minutes, observing and intensely discussing an insect the size of my fingernail. I realized then that I couldn’t move on from a learning experience unless I felt my understanding was full and complete.
|Western Fence Lizard, photo by Allie Ahern.
Whenever I go on hikes or runs now, I’m usually in the back. Chances are something has caught my eye, like an intricately patterned moth, or perhaps a plant that doesn’t look quite like the others. Usually I end up asking, why? Does the pattern serve as camouflage? Has the plant succumbed to a disease? I am now much more observant of my natural surroundings, and more conscious as to how my presence is affecting them. Conscious enough that I’m seriously considering Environmental or Earth Science as my choice for a major in college. The work that we did during TeenNat, in making observations and in following experimental procedure, gave me a taste of what a career in these fields would be like. I absolutely loved it, and because I cherish the beauty, complexity, and bounty of nature, I feel as if I must pay it back for all it’s given me.
|Manzanita gal with aphids, photo by Allie Ahern.
Additionally, TeenNat has left me feeling a whole lot more prepared for the “real world.” From meeting up with professionals in science careers to emailing back and forth with TeenNat leaders, I got a better understanding of what it means to “network.” Our leaders shared their personal experiences, both educational and professional, and now I realize that success doesn’t have to mean a straight-shot to college and a career. Paths can meander. I can pursue internships, do volunteer work, or maybe even take a year off for travel. So, not only did I learn skills valuable to my future, I am more confident in my own abilities and in myself. I can’t wait to see what comes next!
Click here to learn more about Pepperwood's TeenNat program.