University of Vermont

LANDS Offers Experiential Learning and Other Perks to Undergrads and Recent Grads

New semester program starts Fall 2014

2013 LANDS interns Jacob Guettler, Martine Wong and Michael Storace add a plant to their species list at the Pomainville Wildlife Management Area.
2013 LANDS interns Jacob Guettler, Martine Wong and Michael Storace add a plant to their species list at the Pomainville Wildlife Management Area.

We parted the tall meadow grasses as we walked in single file, field guides in hand. “Black medick.” “Moneywort.” “Water hemlock.” As we shouted out plant names, a crew member named Jacob Guettler recorded them in his field notebook. A bobolink flitted nearby, accompanying us with its bubbly call.

These plants were just a few of the many that we, the 2013 LANDS Crew, identified on the 360-acre Pomainville Wildlife Management Area in Pittsford, Vermont. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) had undertaken a major wetland restoration project there in 2005, and asked us to see how the wetland was doing. Two days of field work, two nights of camping, and twelve bellies full of s’mores later, we were wrapping up the inventory and preparing to return to UVM, where we’d turn our data into a set of colorful GIS maps and a professional report. 

Each summer—and starting in 2014, each fall semester—LANDS brings together teams of college students and recent graduates to solve real-world environmental problems throughout Vermont. Students in the field semester earn 15-18 college credits plus professional certifications to put on their resume. Summer interns earn a stipend and AmeriCorps Education Award. Through their work, crew members explore complex ecological concepts and issues while building skills including GIS mapping, plant and wildlife ID, and orienteering.

LANDS operates through a unique partnership between the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources (RSENR) at UVM and the Student Conservation Association (SCA). In their traditional roles, RSENR provides undergraduates with a high-quality environmental education for the 21st century, and the SCA provides young people with meaningful conservation service experience in the professional world. LANDS is the merger of these two goals – a College Conservation Corps.

“LANDS gives students experience in the field that they cannot possibly accumulate in the classroom,” said Nick Dove, a 2011 LANDS intern. Michael Storace (LANDS ’13) agreed: “This work has been invaluable to my educational experience thus far in college. Not only have I learned so much about the logistics and fieldwork that goes into land conservation, but I have gained actual experience doing this work. It has bolstered my educational opportunities for the future, and now highlights the very top of my resume. I am so excited to get to talk to future employers about the amazing work I did this summer.”

Employers do indeed look upon the LANDS experience favorably. After participating in the program, Nick got a seasonal gig monitoring sage-steppe, riparian, and rangeland habitats with the Bureau of Land Management in California. “I know I couldn’t have landed this job without LANDS,” he said.

Part of what makes LANDS special is that each student brings a different skill set to the table, and they learn as much from each other as they learn from the leaders and instructors—a team of UVM faculty and staff from land trusts, government agencies, and other conservation organizations. The crew members also form strong bonds while learning together, traveling together, working together and supporting each other throughout the LANDS experience.

“I always felt included and like I was crucial to the rest of the team,” commented Sylvia Kinosian (LANDS ’13). “Everyone had their special strength and we worked together very well because of that.”

The crew members aren’t the only ones who benefit from LANDS. Combining their diverse knowledge and skills allows the crew to conduct advanced projects that would normally be assigned to staff or professional consultants—and that would often be skipped altogether because of understaffing and the high cost of consulting services. The LANDS crew completed three natural resource inventories for the volunteer-run Johnson Conservation Commission of Johnson, Vermont in 2012. “I don’t believe we would have completed any one of the projects without LANDS,” said Commission member Lois Frey.

As Jacob penciled the final plant names into his notebook, five figures emerged from the forest bordering the meadow: the other half of our crew. The two groups reconvened and enthusiastically shared stories about wildlife sightings, map discrepancies, beautiful scenery and strange natural communities. We stopped to admire a painted turtle that crossed our path on the walk back to the van. 

Our synopsis about the Pomainville site?  Things look good for the most part, but stream buffer improvements and invasive species control measures are needed to support the long-term sustainability of the wetland. And Jacob’s synopsis? “This was one of the best summers I have had in a long time and it has made me even more excited and passionate about pursuing a natural resource related career.”

Students interested in LANDS 2014 should apply now. Two options are available: the summer internship program from June 2nd through August 1st, and the fall field semester from September 2nd through December 3rd. More details and applications are available at http://www.uvm.edu/lands