From teaching Detroit youth about air pollution to electrofishing in the Pine River, Michigan Sea Grant’s interns had a busy summer.
The Michigan Sea Grant (MISG) undergraduate environmental internship program coordinates and funds students working on summer Great Lakes stewardship projects. For each internship, a student works with an academic institution, business, nonprofit, or government agency that helps support and guide the project.
In 2023, Michigan Sea Grant supported 10 interns, representing 6 colleges and universities. Their projects ranged from mapping unsanctioned walking trails in lakeshore parks to tracking lake trout movements with acoustic beacons. Several interns wrote blog posts to share behind-the-scenes peeks into their summer work:
- Track invasive Didymo with Rae McKechnie
- Join Ava Tackabury and Hadley Vande Vusse for a day on the S/V Steelhead
- Stay on the (designated) trail with Tyler Bush
- Stock baby fish on the Pine River with Ava Tackabury
- Use acoustic telemetry to track lake trout with Hadley Vande Vusse
The interns also showcased their projects during an in-person symposium on August 9 at the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus. Each intern delivered a brief presentation about their work and answered questions from the audience. A consolidated recording of the symposium is available; click the “YouTube” icon in the bottom of the player to access timestamps for easy navigation to specific portions of the event.
MISG Director Silvia Newell welcomed interns and their loved ones and mentors to the symposium. She celebrated the interns’ work, saying, “You represent the best of what Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan has to offer. And with all of you all as our next generation of environmental stewards, I’m feeling pretty good about the future.”
She also paid tribute to MISG’s late research program manager, Mike Fraker, who passed away in April 2023 after a prolonged illness. Mike’s passion for engaging students in meaningful research and stewardship projects shone through in his commitment to the 2023 internship program, which he helmed even as his health failed. Plans are underway to create a memorial fund in his name that will support future interns.
During their symposium presentations, interns described the rationale behind their projects, summarized main takeaways or research findings, and reflected on next steps for the projects and their own academic careers.
Some students discovered new passions that may shape their future paths. Intern Anthony Bellinger is diving into a civil engineering program at Michigan State University this fall. His internship with the Detroit Zoological Society was his first exposure to working in the environmental field.
After a summer of helping educate kids about air pollution and planting an urban garden, Anthony said, “This internship has really shaped and shifted my perspective about the environmental field. I may even minor in this field.”
Ava Tackabury is studying earth and environmental sciences and anthropology at the University of Michigan. She spent the summer stationed with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in Charlevoix, where she studied the potential for future lake whitefish spawning in Lake Michigan’s connecting rivers.
“Throughout my academic and personal journey so far, I have found that my interests lie where the natural and anthropogenic worlds become entangled — where species meet,” wrote Ava in an article for the MISG website. During her symposium presentation, she said that exploring the fisheries field through her internship “changed the way I’m envisioning my career path…I really like the fieldwork itself, and the schedule, and being able to work outside all the time…Whether or not I end up in fisheries, I know that working on the water is something that I really enjoy and something that I see myself continuing to do.”
Other interns spent the summer pursuing existing projects or furthering meaningful partnerships. Rae McKechnie is studying animal biology at Lake Superior State University (LSSU) in hopes of becoming a veterinarian. However, she says her summer work—using DNA in water samples to detect the presence of invasive Didymo algae—had already sparked her curiosity. “When I started working at the [LSSU] Center for Freshwater Research and Education,my mentor was the one that interviewed me for the position,” Rae said. “It was supposed to be a 15-minute interview, but we ended up talking for 45 minutes all about Didymo.”
Rae was happy to find her passion dovetailing with LSSU’s existing research priorities. “I got into this research because last year, I was able to work for my tribe, the Sioux Tribe of Chippewa Indians, as an invasive species intern,” she said during the symposium. “Even though [Didymo] is technically a nuisance species, I have a very big passion for invasive species, things that can harm the environment, and what I can do to help.”
Intern Maddy Saddler also worked on familiar territory: Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. “I was fortunate enough to grow up in Alpena, Michigan, where the sanctuary is,” said Maddy during her presentation. “We would take field trips [there] in elementary school. I ended up getting SCUBA-certified and diving shipwrecks in the sanctuary. Just after graduating high school, I actually worked as a deckhand and tour guide on the sanctuary shipwreck tour boat. So this summer, I was excited to have this opportunity with Michigan Sea Grant to further my role at the sanctuary.”
Now studying environmental science at Northern Michigan University, Maddy spent the summer interacting with sanctuary visitors and collecting samples for ground-breaking research into the effects of climate change on Lake Huron’s water quality. Maddy is the second MISG intern to participate in the Lake Huron acidification project, which has received national media coverage.
Hear more from Maddy, Rae, and all the interns in the 2023 cohort by watching the symposium recording. Find out more about the current and previous interns on our website. The application window for 2024 summer funding will open later this year. Watch Michigan Sea Grant’s social media feeds or internship webpage for more information.