Welcome to the seventh 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 Lori Neuman-Lee!
E: Hi Lori! Tell us the years you were at Thomson Causeway.
L: I was at the causeway for at least part of Turtle Camp from the years 2003-2012.
E: At the time, were you a student in high school, college, or graduate school? If you were conducting research, what was your focus?
L: I began as an undergraduate student in 2003, but as I was the cofounder and coordinator of TREE, I continued as a Master’s student when I went to a different university. I conducted research (ironically) off the Causeway, about an hour south. I was working with map turtles. However, my long term project and focus was trapping in the slough. I did intensive trapping for the nine years that I worked at Turtle Camp.
E: How did you first decide to participate in the TREE program?
L: Shannon Thol, Jeramie Strickland, and I decided that Turtle Camp was an optimal place to institute an education outreach program. We worked together with Fred to develop the program.
E: What was your favorite part of TREE?
L: There are many things over the years that I loved about TREE. Since I was the coordinator or co-coordinator (depending upon the year), I received the applications and was able to follow the students throughout their high school and then college years. Each student took a survey prior to TREE and the last day of TREE. I loved reading how much they learned. It was also incredible to watch a group of students that had individuals from many different backgrounds. The first few days were always a bit strained, but then the students would band together and work as a team. The team structure really helped with that.
E: Can you share an anecdote or funny story about your time there?
L: There are so many over the years. I have three stories that I think exemplify the spirit of TREE. The first one came after the first night of the first TREE. Shannon, Jeramie, and I admittedly didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We thought we had planned for everything. After the first night, one of the girls came up to me and confided that she had been cold the night before. I was initially very confused, given that they had warm sleeping bags. Then she told me that the blankets we had given them were very narrow and didn’t cover her. This young woman had never used a sleeping bag. It was a truly new experience. Everything.
The second story is one that I also love. I led the trapping team every year and the first few days were often difficult due to the lack of experience in canoeing. We usually had to set traps, which is difficult with experienced canoers, but really challenging when you have students with you who have never sat in a canoe, much less controlled one. There was a young student who was a horrible, horrible canoer. She was paddling by putting her paddle in parallel to the water instead of perpendicular. She improved, as all students do. However, the next year she returned and we went out into the water. As we pushed off and began canoeing, I realized that she was now an experienced canoer! This individual continued as a high school mentor and then as an undergraduate mentor and has helped to make the program stronger.
The final story involves many smaller stories and encompasses the fun of TREE. There is a history of harmless pranks. One year, there was a team attempting to use wildlife cameras to capture a turtle nest predator. The other two teams spent one afternoon covertly making raccoon masks. That night, we slipped out and set off the cameras, pretending to be raccoons. There was retribution, however. Two mornings later, the trapping team (my team) went to check the traps. It was a particularly cold morning. Our canoes were moored in the middle of the slough! The other teams had borrowed a kayak and pulled our canoes out. We had no choice but to swim through the slough to gather our canoes.
E: How did TREE benefit you later in your education or career?
L: TREE was immensely beneficial to me. I learned a great deal about how to manage a bunch of students. I learned how to work with a diverse group of kids and recognize their strengths and their weaknesses. It was a steep learning curve, but I see where the students are now in their lives and it makes me feel proud and gratified to see so many of them successful. I know that the TREE program changed the lives of a lot of the kids. And Jeramie, Shannon, Fred, and I started that. It’s one of the most important things I’ve ever done in my life.
E: Who would you recommend the TREE program to, and why?
L: I’d recommend it to anyone that loves learning. It’s not always easy or pleasant. It can be miserable at times to be out in the cold rain watching turtles. Sometimes it involves late nights. But it’s all worth it. At the end of the two weeks, you feel like you accomplished something and everyone has bonded in a way that is hard to achieve.
E: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about TREE?
L: It’s valuable to support programs like TREE. It nurtures the individuals that may not fit into traditional roles. It helps build skills other than just research. Students have to think. They have to work together. They have to be respectful. Students have ownership of their work and their results. It’s important.
Lori, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions and share your stories! Every time I think about the huge impact that you, Shannon, and Jeramie had by starting the TREE program, I get chills (in a good way!). Thank you for all you do to develop future biologists!
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!