Intern Experience: Michaela Bush

Pepperwood’s Conservation Science Internship, a partnership with the statewide Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) program, engages Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) students in critical wildlife camera research as they assist in evaluating and cataloging data from motion-activated cameras. They also collect data for our Sentinel Site by monitoring rain gages on a weekly basis. Get to know our past and present interns through this series of interviews. Responses are by the intern.

Michaela Bush
Fall 2016 SRJC Conservation Science Intern

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your major and what are your plans for the future?

As I child I was brought up on a small, family owned and operated Sonoma County farm that embraced responsible practices in permaculture, with the environment always in mind. Conservation, in the long run, is the reason why I am pursuing an education, and what drives my passion to keep working and evolving into a professional, whilst maintaining a beginner’s sense of awe and excitement. Last fall I was presented with my AS in Natural Sciences, and am currently applying to several UCs, in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. I hope to make a difference in the world around me with the education I receive and the experience I gain: no matter how local, nor whether it be through direct efforts or through indirect methods, spreading knowledge and raising awareness.

Describe a typical day as a conservation science intern.

A typical day as a Conservation Science Intern at Pepperwood generally begins by meeting my colleagues at the barn on the premises in the morning, after enjoying a scenic drive to the stunning preserve. We pair up and then take off-road vehicles out to various locations on the vast property to collect data from rain gauges, which can then be reported to databases run by the National Weather Service and CoCoRaHS. The data that we collect is fundamental in both identifying microclimates in various regions of Sonoma County and in maintaining oversight in the effects of climate change.  After an accomplished morning of field work, accompanied by breath-taking views and a great cardio workout, we head back to our offices to analyze images from the ongoing Wildlife Picture Index (WPI) project at the preserve. This project places motion sensor trail cameras in an organized grid throughout the grounds of the preserve and some neighboring property to catch images of the wildlife population present. The frequency and locality of these “sightings” of each species allows scientists to make speculations about changing habitats of our native fauna, the effects humans have on the wildlife around us, and allows for the oversight of species experiencing plummeting population rates.

Michaela Bush (left) and Pepperwood’s Systems Ecologist Celeste Dodge examining a metal identification tag to be installed on a rain gauge

What has surprised you about the experience? What has been fun?

This internship has been a delightful way to gain field experience and gain literacy and practice in the various skills required to be a conservation scientist. I truly feel blessed to have been chosen for this position; the scientists that form the foundation of Pepperwood share a beautiful passion for preserving our local ecology, as well as spreading education to all types of people, in an effort to make a difference world-wide. Hopefully I will get the pleasure to visit Pepperwood in the future and experience its rich eco-diversity again as a more developed and experienced scientist.

What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned about the nature of science?

During this experience, I have truly gotten a taste of what it is like to be a scientist, working in both the field and in the office. There are times that are filled with excitement, wonder, and adventure, but then there are numerous hours to be spent in front of a computer, categorizing and analyzing data. It sheds light on the fact that sometimes science does get slow, but those moments of discovery and enlightenment carry the motivation it takes to keep persevering through the less stimulating times. This for me, is very impactful as student who has been pursuing an education for many years. As a college student, with piles of work that never seem to end, seeing the possibilities that a career in science offers when you get the opportunity to go out into the field is very exciting.

Fall 2016 Conservation Science Interns (from left to right): Mario Balitbit, Michaela Bush, and Omar Acosta

What has been the greatest impact this experience has had on you?

I think one of the most exciting aspects of this internship for me has been learning and connecting to the native wildlife in the place where I was born and raised. I have learned about species I had no idea even existed: for example the ring-tailed cat and spotted skunk, not to mention that they are native to my local community. It has been an enriching experience, allowing me to gain crucial skills fundamental to careers in the scientific world. With all the educational benefits this internship has provided me aside, these past few months have given me delightful memories and experiences that to me, are priceless. I feel blessed that this internship has granted me the time to reconnect with the natural world around me, reminding me of the source of my passion in my field of study.

Anything else you would like to add?

I would like to thank the staff of Pepperwood for allowing me the opportunity to gain experience as a conservation scientist and for the work that they do to preserve the area I call my home. This entire expedition has been very rewarding for me, and it gives me hope that there are scientists with so much dedication to the preservation and protection of the environment. I hope to work with as much passion for preserving the delicate biological processes that comprise our natural world, as I transform from a student into a professional in my field. It has been inspiring, and just what I needed at this point in my educational career to keep me pushing towards my final goal; to make a difference in the world around me as an environmental scientist.


Click here to read Michaela’s article about her experience working on Pepperwood Wildlife Picture Index (WPI) project

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