Watershed interns gain passion for science

COOS COUNTY — Some kids never grow out of playing with tadpoles and frogs. For students signed up with the Watershed Internship, they not only got to hold them, but also studied endangered salmon and dragged nets through creeks and on a boat in the bay.

The internship lasted throughout most of the summer, but came to an end Thursday with final day presentations on what the eight students learned, followed by graduation certificates.

“The Watershed Association leads the program, but we run it through Southwestern Oregon Community College so students get credit,” said Alexa Carleton, Watershed Education and Outreach Coordinator. “We've done a lot of fish monitoring and field journaling, all of which is intended to give them a jump start to college.”

Of the eight students in the program, three were from North Bend High School and five were from Marshfield High. Not only did they get to play with frogs and fish, but they weighed and measured them, learned how to properly handle them, and also learned about renewable energy sources and how to work in a group.

“It's a mix of hands-on science and academic work,” Carleton said.

One student, Elyas Dean from North Bend High, discovered his new passion for studying insects. From day one, he started catching insects with a small fishnet. Carleton brought him her butterfly net the next day, which he used the rest of the time to catch as many dragonfly and butterfly species as he could. Now he can identify the bugs just from looking at them in passing.

“He's become our mascot,” Carleton said. “These students have learned so much about themselves and what they can do. We had one student catch a fish with her hands. When you're passionate and determined enough, you can do so many things.”

Helping Carelton organize the internship group was Maddie Deplois, the summer Ameriorps member for the program. She had the unique experience of coming full circle, having participated in the program when she was still in high school in 2012.

“Marshfield had just gone to their four-day schedule, so we had an extra day and the Watershed Association was offering this,” Deplois said. “I had nothing else to do, and found it's something I really loved.”

She participated in every summer program offered after that until she graduated. Now she is in her senior year at Pacific University, where she was told to find her senior capstone before she graduated. She searched for jobs related to her biology degree in Coos Bay, and found the program that had put her on the path of science.

“It's cool going from the student being introduced to all of this to seeing everyone get into it,” she said. “It cements me wanting to be in this field.”

Both Carleton and Deplois hope students in the watershed internship understand the watershed where they live, and take away the confidence that they can do a program like this again.

“For most of the kids, they spent over 100 hours doing this,” Carleton said. “All of them came into the program with an interest in science, but all of them left with a passion for it.”

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.