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Emma Okell – Internship

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Researching, Cataloguing and History: a look into an internship

By Emma Okell*

                I had been job-searching for five months without success when Lori Brant interviewed me for the Conservation Research Intern position at Steep Rock Association (SRA). I jumped at the chance. Because I was halfway through a yearlong break from college, I was in need of a way to keep my brain active and an excuse to leave the house.

Most of my work was research, which I enjoy greatly. One quarter of my research was about carrying capacity case studies. It was interesting to see how different places calculated carrying capacity. The other three quarters of my research was about historic sites on Steep Rock Association’s property. I spent much of my internship cataloguing how much research we had, where we had it, and how much more we needed for a more complete picture.

On my first day at SRA, I looked at the bookshelves of paperwork thinking, “I hope I never have to touch those shelves.” Naturally, three weeks later I avidly started digging through all of them and cataloguing their contents. The shelves changed from an imposing mountain of papers to stashes of lost treasures with documents from modern day to the 1950s, from printer paper to handwritten notes. I found letters about stewardship, decades-old correspondences and an experiment to slow the population of the invasive woolly adelgid. I learned the writing styles and personalities of past trustees and employees. All of it painted the history of SRA.

Once I started searching the shelves, I gained a reputation for finding documents. Because of that, I was put in contact with Trustee Bill Coleman, who was documenting the history of SRA. Our interactions frequently consisted of Bill asking if I had found information about something and me setting aside fifteen related documents for him to read. The last time I heard from Bill, he still had a foot-tall stack of papers to read through. I may be good at finding papers, but I am terrible at prioritizing them!

My research is not complete, and it may never be. History is the present’s story about the past, and it changes as new information is found. Otherwise, the paperwork is catalogued and in the process of being re-organized. However, I hope the research I have found so far makes it easier to compile information later. Otherwise, I have been very grateful to SRA. I went there to escape cabin fever; I stayed there because I felt useful and welcome.

*Emma Okell is a recent graduate of Gettysburg College. She was previously in Housatonic Valley Regional High School’s Envirothon and FFA, and she interned at Housatonic Valley Association during her undergraduate studies. She begins studying at Vermont Law School this August.

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