He’s only a high school junior, but Lathen Murphy is already planning his career. He wants to merge his love for the environment with his goal of working for the military one day. And to get the field experience he needs, he and six of his Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS) classmates will be working with The Nature Conservancy for four weeks this summer, heading to Lewistown, Ill. and to Georgia on July 1 as 2013 LEAF interns.
LEAF (Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future) is The Nature Conservancy’s national internship program which creates real-world opportunities for students from urban environmental schools to work with Conservancy scientists, partners and colleges for four weeks teaching them about environmental careers, natural area restoration and showcasing colleges with strong environmental programs. The program also provides technical support to environmental educators with online resources and networking to evaluate curricula and share best practices. In its 19th year, LEAF is funded by the Toyota USA Foundation and will receive $4 million over the next two years.
“I want to do soil conservation on military bases,” Lathen said. “Soil is conserved on bases in case our defenses are down. I want to be the one who says what to do with the soil and how it will be used to conserve our land.”
Lathen and two of his classmates, Jake Daggy and Kyle Stepanek, and three male interns from Arabia Mountain High School in the metro-Atlanta area, Cornell Mattox, Brandon Davis, and Joshua McCloud, will convene at Illinois’ Emiquon Preserve, one of the Midwest’s largest wetland restoration projects.
“This is an amazing time to work at Emiquon,” said Jason Beverlin, the Conservancy in Illinois’ Deputy Director of River Conservation. “With the record-setting rains that we had this spring the interns will have a unique opportunity to understand the significance of floodplains and how they function including lessening flood impacts, improving water quality and creating habitat. They will also get hands-on site and equipment management experience along the Illinois River.”
Having previously served as the on-site LEAF coordinator, Beverlin knows that it will be a challenge to cut off six teens from social media and electronics with the program’s “No Cell Phone Zone” policy, but he is sure that the boys will walk away with a new appreciation for conservation work.
“Last year the guys were hot, damp, dirty and pretty tired by the end of most days,” Beverlin said. “And they loved every minute of it. As the students get into the busy work schedule, cooking their own meals, budgeting their pooled money and creating their own entertainment, they learn to work with nature and not against it. They learn to live off the very land they are protecting.”
While at Emiquon the Illinois-Georgia team will clear invasive plants at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, conduct archeological field mapping and excavation with scientists from Dickson Mounds Museum and assist scientists from the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS) and The Nature Conservancy with ongoing research efforts including water quality and invertebrate sampling. They will also visit Bradley University, Western Illinois University and UIS.
Abagail Catania, Brittany Staib, Rachel Milonas and Maya Rucker of CHSAS will join four more LEAF young women in Georgia from Arabia Mountain High School, Jada Allred; Njeri Bennett; Kristi Campbell; and Brianna Smith. With Conservancy staff and two mentors, they will travel and work at several sites in Georgia, including coastal areas and barrier islands. Coastal work in Georgia where marshes, open waters and forests blend to create some of the highest quality habitat within the Western Atlantic Region, has become increasingly important as these areas are under constant threat from development, pollution and climate change.
“It’s a transformative exchange program between Illinois and Georgia,” said Blaine Sergew, director of the LEAF program in Georgia. “It’s an educational, environmental and cultural exchange to get students with similar interests from different places talking about solutions to some of our most vexing environmental issues. We all have the same goal but there are different solutions for different places.”
The young women will visit Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Coastal Georgia and University of Georgia.
This summer, 118 interns across the country will join the ranks of hundreds of LEAF alum who have gone on to further their education in STEM or begun green jobs. The program began in New York but now has expanded into 27 states including Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota, Oregon and Wyoming.
For more information on the LEAF program, visit www.nature.org/LEAF.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.