CU Students Spend Summer Putting Skills to Work

Environmental interns Amy Etherington, left, and Andrea O’Bryan study box turtles in Green County with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Biologist Chris Mason. (Photo by James Roberts, Central Kentucky News-Journal)

Environmental interns Amy Etherington, left, and Andrea O’Bryan study box turtles in Green County with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Biologist Chris Mason. (Photo by James Roberts, Central Kentucky News-Journal)

Campbellsville University Students Spend Summer Putting Skills to Work

By James Roberts, Central Kentucky News-Journal

From studying bat roosts to tagging turtles, a couple of Campbellsville University students have spent their summer getting a firsthand look at the life of environmental workers.

Recent CU graduate Andrea O’Bryan and junior Amy Etherington are taking part in CU’s Environmental Studies Internship Experience this summer.

Now in its second year, this is a competitive program, according to Dr. Richie Kessler, associate professor of biology/environmental studies program coordinator. Interns must be biology majors in good academic standing with at least a 3.0 GPA and be interested in employment or academic advancement in the field.

“This is good for our partners in the program because they get good, quality students,” Kessler said.

The students spend their summer working with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, Division of Forestry, Natural Resource Conservation Service and others. The intent, Kessler said, is to offer a variety of career paths.

“What we’ve got in mind is to make this an applied part of our offerings, an applied, hands-on experience for our students.”

The birth of the internship dates back to Kessler’s own days as a CU student. Upon graduation, Kessler wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do. He took a seasonal job at Mammoth Cave and earned an apprenticeship at Land Between the Lakes, where he tackled everything from forestry to public relations.

“It ended up changing my life,” Kessler said.

And Kessler wants his students to experience something similar.

O’Bryan and Etherington heard about the internship through their friend Joanna Isaacs, the first student to participate.

The interns spent their first two weeks this summer at Mammoth Cave, where they conducted a study on artificial bat roosts.

Designed for the endangered Indiana bat, the roosts, known as bat bark, hung from about 30 trees. O’Bryan and Etherington had to first determine whether the roosts were still there. Next, they had to take temperature readings and study nearby vegetation in order to determine whether the bats had used the artificial roosts.

As it turns out, Etherington said, they didn’t. There were plenty of natural roosts for the bats to use.

While at Mammoth Cave, the interns also participated in a National Songbird Inventory project.

With the KDFWR, they conducted landowner visits and checked on plantings. With the NRCS, the interns will document some conservation projects.

They’ve also explored caves, including the recently discovered cave at Tebbs Bend.

Throughout the internship, the students have participated in ongoing research at Clay Hill, including bird monitoring and studying the bottlebrush crayfish.

The interns are now in their final week.

For O’Bryan, the best part has been the people.

“[The best part has been] all of the people we got meet, all of the contacts we made.”

Mammoth Cave was also a memorable experience for O’Bryan.

“Being at Mammoth Cave, just surrounded by wildlife all the time, was a great experience.”

Like O’Bryan, Etherington also counts Mammoth Cave among the best experiences of the internship.

“I would say just being on our own at Mammoth Cave,” she said. “We got to learn how to use some equipment for the bat project.”

Students apply for the internship during the fall, with the selection being made in the spring.

Ordinarily, Kessler said, there will be only one intern each year. Due to the strengths of both O’Bryan and Etherington, however, an exception was made this year.

The students are given free room and board, Kessler said, so that they don’t have to worry about a secondary job.

“This allows them to immerse themselves in the program,” he said. “That’s why we call it an ‘experience.'”

Campbellsville University is a private, comprehensive institution located in South Central Kentucky. Founded in 1906, Campbellsville University is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Listed in U.S.News & World Report’s 2010 “America’s Best Colleges,” CU is ranked 23rd in “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the South and fourth in “up-and-coming” schools in the south. CU has been ranked 17 consecutive years with U.S.News & World Report. The university has also been named to America’s Best Christian Colleges® and to G.I. Jobs magazine as a Military Friendly School. Campbellsville University is located 82 miles southwest of Lexington, Ky., and 80 miles southeast of Louisville, Ky. Dr. Michael V. Carter is in his 11th year as president.

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