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Nicolet College - Nicolet, UW-Madison, Michigan Tech partner for Natural Resources Internship

Nicolet College partners with UW-Madison, Michigan Tech

to launch Natural Resources Internship Program


It's not too often a college sophomore gets to work on research projects side-by-side with graduate-level researchers.

But that was the case for Nicolet College student Chris Waas, who recently interned with not one but two different natural resources research projects in northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.

Nicolet InternWaas spent three weeks working with University of Wisconsin - Madison researchers investigating how the overall fertility of a mature northern forest affects the nesting range of flying squirrels. From there, she spent another three weeks working with a doctoral candidate from Michigan Technological University who was researching golden-winged warblers.

"It was nothing short of a phenomenal experience," said Waas, who will finish her two-year Associate of Science degree at Nicolet this spring and then transfer to UW-Stevens Point.

cutline"Just being able to work next to people of that caliber was a beautiful thing. And the work was fascinating. I just loved it. It is something I could see doing possibly for the rest of my life."

Waas' experience was a first-of-its-kind internship for a Nicolet student, thanks to the growing relationship between Nicolet, UW-Madison and Michigan Tech.

"Everyone involved benefited from the arrangement," said Roger Dorsey, the natural resources instructor at Nicolet who initiated the Nicolet Natural Resources Internship with colleague Tom Steele, superintendent and associate scientist at UW-Madison's Kemp Natural Resources Station near Lake Tomahawk.

"We will definitely be looking to do this again so that future Nicolet students can get the advantage of having such a high quality learning experience."

In the classroom, Dorsey regularly discusses the work of researchers, applying their findings to any number of different natural processes and concepts. "What's great about this internship is that students have the opportunity to actually help conduct the research. They experience first-hand what it takes to advance science," Dorsey explained.

The research Waas assisted with included work in the Argonne Experimental Forest in Forest County, the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest north of Star Lake, and the Sylvania Wilderness Area, just across the state border in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

During her internship, Waas was able to:

- Use high-tech radio telemetry equipment to track the movement, locate the preferred nesting sites, and determine the territory of a population of flying squirrels;

- trap 37 flying squirrels and attach a tiny radio transmitter so they could be tracked;

- assist with the mist netting, leg banding, and tracking of golden-winged warblers to determine their territorial range;

- establish grid systems in forests for the precise tracking of the squirrels and warblers.

How'd she do in these duties?

"She did a fantastic job," said Stephanie Steinhoff, a UW-Madison graduate student researcher in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, one of the premier wildlife research departments in the country. "Chris was a vital part of our research team," Steinhoff said. "We would not have accomplished nearly as much this field season without her enthusiastic help."

The Michigan Tech researcher concurred.

"You could not have chosen a better, harder working student than Chris Waas and I was extremely satisfied with her performance and professionalism," said Amber Roth, who's working on her Ph.D. at Michigan Tech. "She is a tribute to your program."

In fact, Roth was so impressed with her work that she's already hired Waas to continue working on the golden-winged warbler study next summer.

This was just fine with Waas, who enjoyed the work so much last summer that she kept working as a volunteer after the internship ended.

Along with learning the technical side of field research, experiences like this are invaluable for students by helping them further refine their future academic direction and eventually career track, Dorsey explained.

"Just about every student goes through this process, where they start college with a general idea of what they want to study, and over time, as they learn and see more, they gravitate towards a specific area," he said.

"Being around a broad base of researchers, like they have at Kemp Station and hearing their stories helps students figure out what they want to do with their lives. It's all about giving students as many different experiences as possible so they can see what's out there."

For Nicolet, Waas' experience and the new internship program were compelling factors in the college creating a specialized two-year associate degree that emphasizes natural resources.

And thanks to a new credit transfer agreement Nicolet signed with UW-Stevens Point, Nicolet students who graduate with the new Associate of Science - Natural Resources Emphasis degree are guaranteed admission as juniors to UW-Stevens Point's College of Natural Resources.

As for Waas, does she feel ready to transfer and take the next step down the path toward her bachelor's degree? "Yes, I definitely do. I feel that Nicolet provided me with a good base of knowledge and good experiences. The instructors expect a lot of from you, but they are also reasonable. I have to say, it's been fun."