TeenNat brings science to life for local youth

By Sandi Funke, Education Director

TeenNat interns record observations in Pepperwood’s redwood forest

Spring may have only just started, but you can bet that many young people in our area are trying to figure out how they might be spending their time this summer. Will they master the latest Xbox game, launch a YouTube Channel, or get a part-time job? Will they spend the summer on athletics or academics or just relax?

For the past five summers, Pepperwood has given our local youth the life-changing opportunity to spend five weeks meeting like-minded teens, exploring amazing natural habitats, learning about environmental careers, conducting real research, and learning how to take great photographs. TeenNat is Pepperwood’s award-winning youth internship program, and—thanks to generous community support—it is once again being offered this summer.

TeenNat interns use field guides to identify their photographs before uploading them to the biodiversity database iNaturalist.org

What is TeenNat?

TeenNat is a five-week, summer internship that combines outdoor exploration, technology, social media, photography and ecology. We train the interns to use GPS units and digital cameras to document species and their locations via expeditions on the preserve. Using laptop computers to manage this visual, written, and geographical data interns share and upload their observations to the iNaturalist.org global data platform. Pepperwood educators and researchers deliver lessons on a range of topics including how to use GPS units and digital cameras, identify plants and animals, use field guides, construct a scientific inquiry, pursue natural science careers, and enjoy the wilderness safely. The interns take part in a Career Day and interview local STEM professionals.

At the summer’s close, the interns’ amazing photographic observations are shared in a public exhibit held in Pepperwood’s gallery. During the school year, interns take part in on-going activities that continue to increase skills and link interns with career opportunities. This summer several will be returning to help out with the program and two will be paid TeenNat Assistants. Over 120 teens have participated in TeenNat to date. Several graduates have gone onto to pursue natural resource careers at UC, University of Puget Sound, and elsewhere.

Why is TeenNat needed?

Our nation’s needs many more STEM professionals. For more than a century, science has been a driver of the US economy, yet we are facing a major shortfall in our supply of scientists. As explained in a 2012 report to President Obama titled Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, one million more science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals will need to be added to the American workforce in the next decade to meet the coming demand. Women and minorities constitute a majority of US college students (70%) but only represent 45% of STEM majors (President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2012). A primary recommendation in Engage to Excel is that private industry should collaborate with high schools to develop summer STEM learning programs. TeenNat is such a program.

As our country seeks to grow more scientists, the scientific community is facing the tremendous challenge of documenting the ever-changing biological diversity of the planet in the face of global climate change. More and more researchers are turning towards the community of so-called “citizen scientists” to help gather the information they need to track and how animals and plants are adjusting to changes in the environment. Data from TeenNat is uploaded to the Pepperwood project at iNaturalist.org, and connects to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, the most comprehensive repository of biodiversity data in the world. It is accessed every day by researchers from all over the world.

A TeenNat intern takes a photograph of a praying mantis

Our TeenNat interns and the work they will be doing represent the future. This summer, as they gather and share crucial data, some of our interns will be growing a burgeoning interest in the outdoors, whereas others will be challenging themselves just to be comfortable outside in a wild place. As they work together to identify species and learn how to upload data, some of our interns will have to step outside their comfort zone learning to work with new colleagues. As they engage with scientists online and take pride in their discoveries, some of our TeenNat interns will be taking their first steps on a pathway into environmental careers that will benefit our community for years to come.

We are currently accepting applications for TeenNat 2018.

The application period closes Monday, April 9, 2018.

Click here for application info


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