Welcome to the fourth of the TREE interviews! Click HERE to read more about the TREE program and its relevance to my book, RIVER’S EDGE.
Today I (Erin) am interviewing Jessica Maciel Hernandez!
E: Hi Jessica! Tell us the years you were at Thomson Causeway.
J: I was there the summers of 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.
E: At the time, were you a student in high school, college, or graduate school? If you were conducting research, what was your focus?
J: I started after my freshman year in high school, so I did TREE for 3 years. Then I became a mentor for the TREE program after I graduated high school, and my last years I worked as an undergraduate research assistant. One of those years I was able to be an NSF REU intern, and I focused on the microhabitat selection of Hognose snakes.
E: How did you first decide to participate in the TREE program?
J: I am in a program called Science Bound, which is a scholarship program for Iowa State Students, who are a minority, majoring in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) career. One of the requirements for the program is that each summer we complete a STEM related activity. One of my high school teachers heard about TREE, so that’s what I did one of those summers, and I’ve done it ever since.
E: What was your favorite part of TREE?
J: I have many favorites, but mostly was learning how to live outside because we literally camped out for weeks, and seeing how we did real research and came up with our own research questions also. Working with graduate students was also a great learning experience.
E: Can you share an anecdote or funny story about your time there?
J: Again there are many, but personally, I was setting out traps in the backwaters of the Mississippi River. It’s really difficult canoeing, setting out traps with two people in a canoe, and the canoe full of net traps. So the difficult part is putting them into the bottom of the water so they don’t fall and sink, and in order to do that you have to stand up on the canoe to push them in really good. So I stood up and as soon as I sat back down, balance was lost because of all the weight of the nets, and the whole canoe tipped over. Me and the other person fell in, and the traps and the boat sunk down.
E: How did TREE benefit you later in your education or career?
J: It has benefited me especially in deciding what I want to do with my career, because I get to see first-hand what graduate students do, and it has given me research experience which has helped me get other jobs and work with other professors.
E: Who would you recommend the TREE program to, and why?
J: I would recommend the TREE program to everyone who is planning on going into a career of education, science, and research. It’s for different types and age groups, not just high school students, because the graduate students and professors learn from the students, and the students also learn from the professors and graduate students.
E: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about TREE?
J: Learn about what it is! And try to do a program similar to it because it really works for kids and everyone else to get interested in science!
Jessica, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions! It’s awesome that you were involved with TREE for so many years. And I love that tipped-canoe story—something similar happens in my book. 😉
Readers, 10% of RIVER’S EDGE sales through May 5th will be donated to the TREE program. Help support future turtle research and young biologists!