Intern Experience – Paulina Hernandez

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 and articles.

A day in the life of a Conservation Science Intern

By Paulina Hernandez
Spring & 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?

Hello I am Paulina Hernandez, a junior level student at Santa Rosa Junior College as an undergraduate chemistry major. I am a first-generation Hispanic student in pursuits of obtaining a Pharmaceutical-Chemistry B.S degree from a University of California. Afterwards, I plan on applying to UC San Francisco, School of Pharmacy (my dream school) where I will obtain my PhD and hopefully work in a laboratory as a pharmaceutical chemist. As a little girl, I always dreamt of wearing a white lab coat. Although, at that age it was unclear to me what kind of doctor I wanted to be…it didn’t take me long to discover that my passion was held in a laboratory “playing” with chemicals and most importantly making an impact to my community and science. Taking the Organic Chemistry course at the SRJC and shadowing/speaking to pharmacists really enforced my decision to study pharmacy.

Describe a typical day as a Conservation Science Intern

A typical day in the life of a Pepperwood’s Preserve Conservation Biology Intern day goes as follows:

I arrive at Pepperwood grounds early in the morning, when the sun is just peeking through the clouds and the air is still cool with the breeze perfectly crisp and clean.

Coordinating with the weather, if the climate is most importantly…not raining…we proceed to the barn for Rain Gauge Monitoring data collection. Here, the other three interns and myself pair up in teams and decide who will go to which location, Martin Creek or Rogers Canyon.

Each team then grabs the necessary equipment:

  • Clipboard with map and empty data sheet
  • Pens and expo markers
  • ID index card
  • Mineral Oi and cotton cloth

For each location there are 6 total rain gauges to visit and collect data from. If the road conditions are safe we can drive up to most of the gauges with little hiking however, on muddy roads we hike to every rain gauge. Once we arrive at each collector we snap a picture of the gauge and index ID card that explains the location of each gauge with the date. Then, we determine if the gauges have any rain water. If they do, we collect the data by measuring how much rainfall was collected using a cylinder flask ruler. On the days we do not receive any rain, some water is collected from the morning mist and that is called “trace,” which is recorded but not calculated. After all 6 plots are visited and data is collected we return to the barn, leave the mules and proceed onto our 2nd half of the day in the Dwight Center.

Our other half of the day is reserved for image cataloging for the Wildlife Index Picture project. Motion sensor cameras are distributed and setup throughout the preserve and will snap photos in series of 3 images when they detect motion. For every mammal that we observe in the images, it is recorded into an excel data sheet. The species and genus of the mammal as well as the count is important for the research. Within each camera, there are different seasons, that typically relate to our climate seasons. This information is then observed by the Principal Investigator of this project.

Both of these projects and their data collection is observed and utilized by various organizations and researchers.

Conservation Science Interns Paulina Hernandez (center) and Sasha Ruschmeyer (right)

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

Through Pepperwood I have learned and become more generally aware of the different areas of science that people partake in. Because I was so focused on chemical laboratory skills and emphasized science in such a narrow window, I never was really able to explore other fields in STEM. Here, I have learned that all sciences interconnect with one another and that makes science even more fascinating. With collections as part of the Herbarium Project at Pepperwood, I realized that by researching plants new medicinal or improvements in medical projects could advance. I have also learned that professional science is conducted by trial and error and not all work is field work but a collaboration between field and computation/computer work.

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

This is my 2nd consecutive semester interning at Pepperwood as a Conservative Biology Intern and through this internship I have gained rewarding and professional etiquette that enhances my growth in education and thus, further enhances my professionalism. Additionally, I have expanded my horizons to other fields and organizations in STEM allowing me to empower my knowledge and also collaborate with other fields and professionals in order to achieve a greater impact in science.

Conservation Science Interns (from left to right) Sasha Ruschmeyer, Paulina Hernandez, and Parth Parikh in Spring 2016.

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

As an aspiring scientist, exploring Pepperwood and managing some of their projects, I have more profoundly admired and appreciated the fauna and flora expressed throughout our landscapes. I have learned the process of how to conduct experiments and the importance of precision and accuracy. Additionally, it has helped me learn how to collaborate alongside other scientists on the same projects. Pepperwood has taught me not only how to collaborate with other scientists and how to progress my lab etiquette skills but also learn and appreciate the fauna and flora of our backyard. The Wildlife Picture Index has brought awareness to my surroundings and the Rain Gauge Monitoring project has brought attention to our rainfall in this region.


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