Theory into Practice
Trace McKellips ’17, Jennifer MacDonald, and Field Lead Kristen Andrews ’08 survey the Upper Keechelus Lake mitigation site for WSDOT’s wetlands monitoring internship program.
Not so long ago, the mud on Kristen Andrews’ clothes might have been flour instead.
Andrews ’08 was working as a pastry chef when she realized it was time for a change. Tired of being cooped up in a kitchen and starting work well before dawn, Andrews decided to pursue a career in biology.
“I went back to school in my 30s to finish what I’d started,” Andrews explains. “Earlier in life, when I began my undergrad, I always had a hard time choosing a narrow specialty. At Evergreen I didn’t have to. I had always loved hiking and camping. So it just made sense to get into fieldwork, where I could be active and outside as much as possible.”
Andrews took advantage of every fieldwork opportunity at her disposal—including a paid internship monitoring wetlands with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
“Learning by doing has always been my way,” Andrews says, “and it shows when I’m instructing student interns out in the field.”
Today, Andrews works as a wetland biologist for WSDOT. She’s a field lead with the very same wetland monitoring internship program she’d taken part in as a student at Evergreen.
“When I’m with the interns, I’m always looking for that light-bulb moment from them,” Andrews says. “There will be a moment when they realize whether or not this is something they want to do with their lives. It’s very cool to see.”
Andrews’ co-worker Doug Littauer MES ’11 also participated in the WSDOT internship before becoming a field lead and eventually the department’s wetland monitoring manager. While the internship is open to students from multiple state colleges in Washington, Littauer notes a striking difference in Evergreen students’ level of preparedness.
“I’m always impressed at how much experience the average Evergreen student brings to the internship,” he says. “Some will have ornithology expertise because they’ve taken that program. They’ll come in ready for a hands-on experience, and they’ll sometimes even act as mentors for the other students.”
That’s no coincidence, either. Andrews says students’ engagement in interdisciplinary studies works to their benefit out in the field.
“Greeners are more willing to make connections that aren’t readily apparent,” she says. “They’re interested in the whole process—the macro and the micro—in a way that you seldom see in other students.”
Now in its 20th year, the internship provides hands-on field and laboratory experience collecting and analyzing environmental data gathered from WSDOT wetland mitigation sites. These sites range from farmland to Seattle’s SR 520 floating bridge—and everywhere in between.
“Our work covers the entire state,” Andrews says. “There’s a ton of travel involved. Much of it happens in western Washington, of course, as it’s the wetter side of the state. We’ll travel up and down the I-5 corridor for the summer internship program.”
Interns use quantitative and qualitative monitoring methods to conduct vegetation surveys. They also rely on statistical methods to evaluate quantitative data. Most field activities emphasize vegetation sampling and plant identification. The laboratory sessions, supplemental training, and seminars take place on Evergreen’s campus in Olympia.
A competitive edge
Littauer believes Evergreen’s focus on hands-on learning and collaboration gives Greeners a competitive advantage in the sciences. Kevin Andrew, Evergreen’s new assistant director of internships and employer development, agrees wholeheartedly.
“Experiential learning is incredibly valuable in terms of getting a job,” he says. “Evergreen’s approach to learning better prepares our students to succeed in the working world.”
In the 2014–15 academic year, Evergreen students took part in 791 internships. If Kevin Andrew has anything to say about it, that number will skyrocket in the coming years.
Evergreen created his position last summer as Student and Academic Support Services underwent a major reorganization. Kevin Andrew says his role fits perfectly with the mission of the college.
“When I read the Five Foci, my eyes lit up. Linking theory with practical application— that’s my job in a nutshell. I want students to take what they’ve learned in the classroom, in the lab, and in seminar, and share that with the world at large.”
There are practical reasons for that, Kevin Andrew explains. Coming out of the recession, employability matters more to students and their parents. In addition, employers want to know they’re hiring the right person for a full-time position.
“Employers know they need to make smarter hiring decisions,” Kevin Andrew says. “For them, an internship is a trial run. There’s much less risk in hiring a trusted, proven intern.”
“The WSDOT summer internship is just one of many, many opportunities available to students. Making sure they’re aware of that is one of my primary goals.”
Kevin Andrew also has been tasked with generating interest in Evergreen’s unique student talent pool among employers.
Evergreen graduate gives back
When Val Shamma ’16 started at Evergreen, he expected to pursue studies in the environmental sciences. Those soon shifted to the way people react to their environment—and eventually to art.
“Toward the end of my time at Evergreen,”Shamma says, “I was focused on art more than manufacturing, so that’s been the biggest transition in my new job.”
That new job—creating heirloom-quality ceramics through a revolutionary 3D printing process at Bre & Co.—came about as the result of a successful summer internship. Bre Pettis ’95, cofounder of MakerBot Industries, recruited Shamma and his fellow interns particularly because they displayed the superlative attributes of an Evergreen graduate.
“We’re starting the business from scratch, and we are doing things that have never been done, so it’s great to have fresh folks who have learned how to learn at Evergreen,” Pettis says. “I saw right away that my interns had a great work ethic, and I didn’t worry about their ability to solve problems independently.”
“My Evergreen education made it easier to learn across disciplines,” Shamma adds. “I felt like I could move from art to design and tech without hitting a wall or feeling overwhelmed.”
Shamma couldn’t be more excited about Pettis’ fledgling enterprise, which promises to “explore the frontiers of craftspersonship, advanced manufacturing, and iterative design.” And despite the emphasis on tech innovation, he still gets his hands dirty.
“You might think that this ceramics process is less labor intensive, but it’s still a tactile experience for the artist. You’ve got to fill the printer with clay and make sure there aren’t any air pockets. Then you’re manipulating variables like air pressure, the rate at which the clay is extruded, and more. All of it factors into the aesthetics of the completed piece.”
Shamma, Kristen Andrews, and many more Greener grads credit Evergreen internships with helping them make the transition to careers they love. For her part, Andrews the wetland biologist can’t imagine returning to a life of commercial baking anytime soon.
“I can always make pastries at home, for my own enjoyment,” she says. “You know, in between outdoor adventures.”
Calling all employers
Kevin Andrew urges small business owners and entrepreneurs to hire Evergreen interns: “Because of the nature of the education Evergreen students get, so many of their skills match what employers say they want in a new hire. I would encourage alumni to reach out if they’re interested in establishing an internship opportunity for current students. If you’re looking for someone who’s self-motivated, someone who knows how to collaborate—hire an Evergreen student. They have an affinity for service, and they’re ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.”
If you’d like to enlist help from an Evergreen student intern at your place of work, contact Kevin Andrew at email@example.com or (360) 867-6189.