Coast & Sustainability

Island Internship Welcomes Next Generation of Conservation Leaders

Every summer on Martha’s Vineyard, an immersive internship program connects local teens to conservation work with a focus on ecology, stewardship, horticulture and environmental education. This spring, five high school students will be welcomed into the seventh season of the Claire Saltonstall Education Program (CSEP) Environmental Training Internship.

“This is a real, hands-on internship that connects year-round and seasonal residents of high school age with Trustees work on the island, both as a learning experience and also by providing a mentorship,” explains Molly Peach Mayhew, Trustees Islands Education Manager. “The program is important to the Trustees and our local community, giving students an opportunity to connect with the natural world, and build the next generation of conservation leaders.”

The program is run under CSEP in addition to other school programming that takes place throughout the year. CSEP, launched in 1991, allows Trustees to host robust school programming and coastal education events for kindergarten through 12th grade.

“We are at a critical juncture in time where the impacts of climate change such as sea level rise, storm surges, and excessive beach erosion are affecting The Trustees delicate and ecologically critical special places on Martha’s Vineyard,” notes Trustees Director of Islands Darci Schofield. “Island students grow up experiencing these places, and many consider them an extension of their home. The Trustees is tasked with protecting some of these beloved landscapes to ensure public use and enjoyment, integrity and access, not only for today but also for tomorrow—for many generations to come. The CSEP Environmental Training Internship provides exposure to conservation career path options to our local youth, the next generation who will pick up the reigns and ensure the future protection of these spectacular places.”

During the six-week Environmental Training Internship program, each student rotates through practical experience in the following areas, working closely with ecologists, stewards, and property staff:

  • Environmental Education: Interns work closely with The Trustees place-based and hands-on education program to advance knowledge across the Island on climate change impacts, sustainability, and threats and adaptation opportunities for the delicate ecological systems on Martha’s Vineyard.
  • Stewardship Management: Interns work with The Trustees Stewards and Rangers as “rangers-in-training” assisting in the many systems and mechanics required to provide special care, stewardship, and maintenance to the landforms and their delicate natural systems, buildings, trails, vehicles, wayfinding, and beach and dune integrity from high winds or storms.
  • Shorebird Management: Interns experience what it is like to work in the field as an ecological scientist. They assist with rare species habitat delineation, protection of shorebird habitat from adverse impacts, and rare species population monitoring and data collection.
  • Horticulture: Fine gardens and historic and cultural landscapes are rooms with detailed vistas purposefully decorated with unique plant forms, shapes, colors and textures. They are art in life with need of great care, attention, and understanding of the culture and history behind them. Our Environmental Interns work at The Trustees Japanese-inspired Mytoi fine garden to assist in the intricate work, history, and documentation of plantings required to make Mytoi such a beloved garden to the community.
  • Public Interpretation: The landforms and rare and delicate natural systems on Martha’s Vineyard are beloved by all. Interns learn alongside tour staff how to lead a guided group
  • Sustainable Agriculture: Interns visit The FARM Institute to learn about farm operations and educational programming.

“Past interns have helped with evening kayak excursions with Camp Jabberwocky, irrigation projects on the TFI pumpkin patch, organizing activities with MV Boys & Girls Club campers, and monitoring shorebird nests with our ecologists,” noted Peach Mayhew. “It’s meaningful work, and we’ve had multiple alumni of this program come back as seasonal employees, including rangers, shorebird technicians, and tour guides.”

At the end of every day, interns write down reflections of what they’ve learned, and compile a final project at the end of the six weeks. Past projects have ranged from posters to interpretive panels to activity brochures, to StoryWalks®, and more. The goal of the program is to provide students with the opportunity to better understand the options available to them in the fields of environmental science as they begin to investigate or even pursue their career goals and aspirations through undergraduate degrees.

The application period for the next coastal internship season opened in January and will remain open until May.

“Thanks to the CSEP, some of these interns have grown up with Trustees educational programming from kindergarten to high school, developing a love and understanding of the outdoors,” said Peach Mayhew. “These are students that can go on and make an impact in conservation or climate advocacy, in so many ways that we’re just starting to touch on in this program.”

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