August 19, 2013 | Matt Kucinski

Every summer, hundreds of Calvin students scatter across the U.S. and around the world, researching, interning and exploring. This summer, some of these students are keeping us informed about their adventures. Next up: sophomore Annaka Scheeres of Boulder, Colo., a biology and environmental studies double major at Calvin College. This summer, Annaka is interning on Calvin's campus.

Where are you?

I am working at the Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve, which is right on the other side of the Beltline (across from main campus).

Why are you there?

I am one of three Ecosystem Preserve Summer Stewards responsible for documenting animal activity in the preserve and preserving its beauty! All of our monitoring and management activities are conducted to maintain and encourage the preserve’s biodiversity.

What’s your typical day like?

There is no typical day here at the preserve. We come to work at 8 and leave at 4:30, but besides that, we focus on different projects almost every day. Some days we get to hold chipmunks and garter snakes, other days we use chainsaws to chop down invasive tree species, and still others we plant bee balm, butterfly weed and black-eyed susans (all plants native to West Michigan).

What (technically) are you doing?

We are working for both the Calvin biology department and the Bunker Interpretative Center under professor Randy Van Dragt and Ecosystem Preserve program manager Jeanette Henderson. For the research component of our job, we conducted two surveys throughout the summer: a breeding bird survey and a small mammal survey. For the breeding bird survey, we bird watched in all of the preserve’s fields over the course of a month to track the population trends of these birds; we learned to identify breeding birds common to West Michigan by both sight and sound. Later, for the small mammal survey, we set small mammal traps each afternoon and then, the following morning, collected data on any small mammals we captured during the night. Using the data gathered, we were able to track the population trends of these mammals. In addition to these surveys, we completed a variety of land management activities, such as pulling invasive plant species, mulching the trails in the preserve, and fixing segments of broken trail edging.

What (in layperson's terms) are you doing?

We are making sure that the preserve remains healthy and is able to provide sufficient resources to all the animal and plant communities that coexist here.

How has Calvin prepared you for this?

My biology classes this past year taught me to be attentive to details, which is key for identifying plant and animal species, and how to effectively manage long-term projects. They also taught me how to analyze data, which was key for the research component of this job. Using the analysis framework my classes helped me develop, I was able to identify population trends and correlate various ecological factors with these trends.

What has surprised you so far?

Maintaining the preserve requires much more physical labor than I initially anticipated. I often visited the preserve during the school year to revel in its natural and seemingly untouched beauty. However, I have learned throughout the summer that this “natural” beauty is the product of hours of weeding, shrub pulling, trimming, etc. Without careful monitoring of the animal and plant populations, invasive foreign species would replace the native species. The continuation of healthy plant and animal communities relies on death and extermination; I would often pull invasive species and plant native species on the very same day.

How do you see this shaping your future?

This summer has peaked my interest in conservation and restoration ecology because being a summer steward has allowed me to experience firsthand the work that typically goes into managing and restoring ecosystems. This type of work is very rewarding because it relies on both intellectual and physical labor and requires constant interaction with nature.

Best thing you’ve eaten?

I’m pretty sure we have eaten most of the wild raspberries and blackberries that grow all over the preserve. They were absolutely delicious.  

Best picture you’ve taken?

Since I am outside almost the whole day, constantly surrounded by trees, flowers, and wildlife, I have taken so many beautiful nature shots.

Met anybody memorable?

I have learned so much from working with both professor Randy Van Dragt and Jeanette Henderson; their incredibly extensive knowledge of nature never ceases to astound me. If I ever needed help identifying a plant or animal, they would not only be able to tell me its name, but also its preferred habitat, its mating habits, and almost anything else one could wonder about.

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