85 Princeton Undergraduates Share Their Summer of Learning Experiences

Holly Welles ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

On Friday, October 3rd, eighty-five (85) Princeton undergraduates participated in the 7th Annual Summer of Learning symposium to share insights and outcomes from their summer 2014 internships and service experiences.

The Summer of Learning Symposium organized by the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) provides students the opportunity to present their research findings on scientific, technical, policy, and human dimensions of a wide-variety of global environmental challenges in energy and climate, sustainable development, and ecological health around the world.

In summer 2014, participating students travelled to destinations in the United States and 11 foreign nations on assignments with faculty-led research projects, academic institutions, NGOs, and government and community service enterprises.

SOL 2014
Alex Dominguez ’16 presenting his summer research entitled, “Analysis of Mechanisms of Nutrient Cycling in Floodplain Lakes of the Lower Mississippi River, Mississippi.” (Photo credit: Angela Petsis)

“As interns, the students engaged in research, outreach, policy analysis, communications and other practical work experiences,” said Lars Hedin, chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a member of PEI’s faculty. Hedin was one of six faculty who moderated sessions during the Symposium. “This internship program clearly enriches students’ perspectives and helps prepare them as leaders,” he said.

Ecology and evolutionary biology major Zoe Sims ’17 spent her summer in Costa Rica researching competitive strategies among trees in nutrient limited tropical ecosystems. Advised by ecology and evolutionary biology professor Stephen Pacala, Sims designed and conducted an independent study to examine how leaf traits – size and mass per area – interact with nutrient limitation in order to understand forest dynamics and applications such as climate modeling. “In the process, I learned the essentials of fieldwork, particularly perseverance in the face of challenge and unpredictability,” said Sims. “The experience reinvigorated my passion for ecology and the critical, big-picture questions it allows us to pose. It opened my eyes to the career possibilities within ecology and academia, and reinforced my awe for the science and mystery of the natural world.”

SOL 2014
Das Bristee ’16 presenting her “Crystallization of Perylene Diimides for Organic Field-Effect Transistors” project. (Photo credit: Angela Petsis)

Sophomores Raymond Bartolucci, chemical and biological engineering, and Adrian Tasistro-Hart, geosciences, traveled with geosciences professor Adam Maloof to Namibia to study the paleoclimate of the region by collecting Ediacaran Cloudina fossils, one of the earliest known shelled animals found in 540 million year old reefs. They also observed the context in which these samples were found in order to gain an understanding of the climatic environment in which the animals lived. “The experience of camping and actually living in my research area for two months was life-changing; it not only taught me how to go about planning and carrying-out research, but also the importance of truly observing and gaining a context for the subject of my internship experience,” said Bartolucci.

Geosciences major Atleigh Forden ’16 conducted her internship on plant respiration behavior during the 24- hour daylight summers of the high arctic Swedish Lapland. Guided by geosciences professor Michael Bender and his lab team, Forden said, “I learned how to function within a research group, how to handle the uncertainties of working in the field, and how to process many different types of data. One of the most valuable things that I learned, was patience when it comes to scientific work.  Collecting data can take a long time and nothing ever really goes according to plan. Nonetheless, I loved the work and the constant engagement that research demands. This internship confirmed by desire to pursue graduate school.”

SOL 2014
Elliot Chang ’16 delivering his internship presentation entitled, “The Use of Alginate and Chitosan to Purify Tree Distillates of Organic Contaminants.” (Photo credit: Angela Petsis)

Along with fellow intern Taylor Morgan’16, Haley Lane worked in civil and environmental engineering professor Kelly Caylor’s ecohydrology lab in Kenya. Together, the two civil and environmental engineering majors studied climate change impacts on snowmelt-dependent agricultural systems near Mount Kenya—a region of large scale industrial farming afflicted by severe drought. “In addition to collaborating with local government officials, our work centered on profiling the stream systems flowing down from Mt. Kenya,” said Lane. “This internship offered me the chance to gain valuable experience in both field work and lab analysis. Moreover,  it exposed me to the diverse culture and extraordinary ecology inherent to Kenya. The experience has inspired me to pursue thesis research based on fieldwork, and it also fostered a personal interest in sustainable development that I will carry with me as I consider future career goals.”

An emphasis of the PEI internship experience is the mentored experience with Princeton faculty or by the faculty or professional staff of participating host organizations.

PEI’s Summer of Learning Program includes the full list of internship topics, locations, and host organizations. To learn more about our program in general, please visit PEI’s Internship page.