Marcus Yamaguchi, an intern for the W.M. Keck Observatory, works on the Keck2 telescope on July 7 as part of the center-launch laser project. He holds an air regulator that he hopes to install later this month as one of his many tasks helping to move the project toward completion. The regulator is part of the purge air system used to keep the optics in the laser transport beam train clean. (PHOTO COURTESY OF ED WETHERELL FOR NHN)
Graduate student Timo Sullivan tags a “poison devil’s pepper,” rauvolfia vomitoria, as he is studying the invasive species as his thesis. Interns Dean Snelling, right, and Alex Moore help with the data collecting process. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Dean Snelling installs fencing on Kohala Mountain as part of his internship program. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Alex Moore installs fencing on Kohala Mountain as part of his internship program. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Intern Josh Inaba takes the weight of a roi during a “Roi Roundup” tournament at Puako. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Rebecca Most, assistant marine coordinator for The Nature Conservancy, helps intern Josh Inaba as he takes data from a roi caught during a “Roi Roundup” in Puako. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Participating in a summer internship has become the norm for most college students these days, as they seek on-the-job experience to help boost their profile in an employment market that is tough for new graduates.
In and around North Hawaii, graduates of local high schools are back home this summer, applying their college education to assist local businesses and non-profits with their work.
Josh Inaba graduated from Parker School in 2010, and attends Skidmore College in upstate New York, majoring in environmental science. He is undertaking a marine conservation internship with The Nature Conservancy this summer, funded by a grant from his college.
His daily work is varied, from doing human-use surveys along the coast at Puako, to dissecting roi, an invasive fish species, to provide data to model population dynamics for better management.
“It has been inspiring to see community-based coastal management working here,” said Inaba. “I am studying environmental policy at Skidmore, but I now have real questions about how policies actually work here in Hawaii. How can public policy support local efforts to integrate Western top-down management and traditional knowledge?”
For his environmental science major at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, Kohala High School alumnus Dean Snelling was required to research and write about internship opportunities.
“I talked to a lot of people who had done the Pacific Internships for Exploring Science program at UH-Hilo, and they all spoke really highly of their experience,” said Snelling.
Snelling thought all the PIPES internships were research-based, but was excited when he was offered a position with Kohala Watershed Partnership, because it was physical labor outdoors, and right in his own back yard.
Alex Moore volunteered with KWP at their Saturday work days for the past year while living in Waimea and going to school at UH-Hilo. He just graduated this May with a degree in agriculture, and began his PIPES internship with KWP in June.
“It feels like a real job. They don’t baby us, but treat us like members of the crew,” said Snelling. The interns work alongside the KWP field crew, controlling and mapping invasive plants, surveying for native snails, and building conservation fences to protect native forest.
“It’s intense work, but I love it,” he said.
“I’m from Hawaii, and I am passionate about protecting Hawaii’s resources,” said Timo Sullivan, Hawaii Preparatory Academy alumnus and current graduate student at UH-Hilo in the Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science program. After earning a liberal arts degree on the mainland, then working for a few years in the music industry in New York City, Sullivan chose to come back to Hawaii to make a difference.
“I feel connected to this land,” Sullivan said. “It’s a special kind of sadness to see our Hawaiian forest being degraded. It’s like nowhere else in the world.”
Sullivan chose to do his master’s thesis research with the Kohala Watershed Partnership, and was hired as an intern this summer to work with the KWP crew. He also started the data collection for his own research project, a study of the biology of a threatening invasive plant on the Kohala watershed.
“This skill set is extremely valuable for someone in conservation biology,” he said.
W.M. Keck Observatory is hosting three interns this summer as part of the Akamai Workforce Initiative, a program of UH-Manoa’s Institute for Astronomy. Honokaa graduate and Keck intern Marcus Yamaguchi is currently studying electronics at Kauai Community College, a new endeavor for him after spending six years in Waipio Valley, where he lived the life of a taro farmer after high school.
“I have learned so much through this internship,” said Yamaguchi. “I get to meet new people and talk to them about how they got where they are — what education they pursued, what work experiences they had. It’s helped me make decisions about what I want to do next with my life,” he said.
Why do organizations take on interns?
“It’s cool to experience these young people engaged and asking questions,” said Chad Wiggins, marine coordinator for The Nature Conservancy and mentor to Inaba.
“Interns give us a fresh perspective on our work. I ask our intern, ‘What do you think? What could we do better?’ Working with interns definitely improves my own management skills,” he said.
Cody Dwight, KWP’s field crew leader, has mentored interns for the past four summers, and feels the interactions with interns makes him more professional.
“I like to make sure every day that I work with the interns is a worthwhile experience. I think about what knowledge and skills I want to pass on, and take the time to share the history and reasons behind what we do,” said Dwight. “But I also learn from the interns; they open my eyes to a different perspective.”
“I grew up in Hawaii, and there were not a lot of opportunities for employment besides tourism,” said Jason Chin, Keck astronomer and mentor to Yamaguchi. “I like to see kids exposed to these experiences, to be able to work hands-on with an integrated project,” he said.
Although most interns expect to be absorbing new knowledge and practicing new skills in their internships, they are sometimes surprised by the bigger lessons that they learn during the summer.
“I lived in Kohala my whole life, but never even knew that there was native forest, with native snails and native birds up there on the mountain. I never looked up beyond the pastures to think about what was up there, never thought about invasive plants taking over,” said Snelling.
He now finds himself talking with friends in his community about what he is learning.
“I’m committed to saving these special places,” he said.
For many local graduates who go away from home for college, the chance to come back home to Hawaii to work for a summer gives them new appreciation for the stunning natural environment that they took for granted growing up here.
“I am now learning about environmental issues in my home. I realize how the environment and people are connected, and I want to come back and help out,” said Inaba.
Like the ancient practice of apprenticeship, internships give young people the chance to explore a potential career, and learn by hands-on practice. For some of the students, their internship has solidified their life goals.
“This is exactly what I want to do — I want to be a field biologist,” said Sullivan.