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Robeson County high school students gain experience in geology and marine science through IE’s Summer Geoscience Internship Program

September 11, 2022 interns together in creek
Photo by Matthew Ng

This past summer, high school students from Robeson County spent time on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus to participate in the Summer Geoscience Internship program, a five-week program that allows prospective college students to gain experience in the geosciences.

“I was interested in the Summer Geoscience Internship program because I love science and nature,” said Elizabeth Olan Lopez, an advanced senior at Robeson Early College High School. “Also, [the program] was at UNC-Chapel Hill where I want to attend, so I wanted to get a sense of what it is like being a student here.”

Olan Lopez, a leader of her high school’s robotics team, first discovered the Summer Geoscience Internship program when one of her teachers recommended it to her. She highlighted her time spent working in campus labs as one of her most valuable experiences of the summer.

The Summer Geoscience Internship program is a partnership between UNC-Chapel Hill Institute for the Environment’s Center for Public Engagement with Science (IE-CPES), UNC-Pembroke, and Robeson Early College High School. Megan Hoert Hughes, STEM Diversity program manager at IE-CPES, is the principal investigator for this Burroughs Wellcome Fund-sponsored program.

After one week spent preparing for the program back in Robeson County, students from Robeson Early College High School and other high schools in the county are given the opportunity to spend four weeks on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, where they are able to conduct research and be a part of a geoscience lab, meet and network with professors, and experience life at college.

interns outsidePhoto by Andrew Russell

Joshua McNeill, another advanced senior at Robeson Early College High School, found himself drawn to the scientific aspects of the Summer Geoscience Internship program; he named chemistry as his favorite school subject, saying, “I like understanding the fundamentals of the elements and compounds and how they interact in the world.”

Additionally, participating in the program provided him with the experience of living on a college campus and the opportunity to make connections before applying to college this year. “My biggest takeaway from the internship is the number of connections that I was able to make with people and labs around campus,” said McNeill, an avid gardener and skateboarder in his free time.

A typical day for Summer Geoscience interns included group activities such as college admission preparation, kayaking, or visiting the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as time spent individually or in small groups in campus research labs. One such activity was an outing to Duke Forest, where the interns learned how to assess the health of a body of water using macroinvertebrate sampling. Rather than simply looking at water under a microscope or doing chemical analysis, the interns spent their time knee-deep in New Hope Creek, looking for crawfish, water insects, and other animals to determine the health of the creek before returning all the animals to their habitat.

interns insidePhoto by Andrew Russell

The Summer Geoscience interns now are in the midst of preparation for their futures. During her final year at Robeson Early College High School, Olan Lopez plans on applying to several colleges, including UNC-Chapel Hill, where she will pursue a degree in nursing. McNeill plans to spend the next year applying for college and for scholarships.

“I am very grateful that I was chosen for this internship,” said Olan Lopez, reflecting on her time spent at UNC-Chapel Hill this summer. “It has been an incredible and educational experience.”

For more information on the Summer Geoscience Internship program, you can visit the UNC Institute for the Environment’s website. Funding for the internships is provided by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Student Science Enrichment Program (SSEP).

Story by Matthew Ng
Matthew Ng is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Matthew is currently a junior pursuing a double major in journalism and political science. Outside of his work as a communications intern for the Institute for the Environment, he has experience in documentary storytelling and reporting on Chapel Hill local politics. After graduating in 2023, Matthew plans on attending graduate school.