Out of the several organizations I worked for during my internship, teaching and working with high school students was the highlight for me. If I was told I’d be doing this before I began my internship, I might have quit. I was pretty scared of them since they know everything about everything…
It was my responsibility to educate three classes about water quality in the Crooked River Watershed. The classes were part of an Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) funded program to help students gain technical experience and college credit in the fields of forestry, rangeland, wildfire, and invasive species. After first making the connection between those subject areas and the importance of water quality, I discussed several things with them:
- Water quality variables
- Biological oxygen demand (BOD)
- Dissolved oxygen (DO)
- Nutrients (Phosphorus and Nitrogen)
- Trends over time/ statistical analysis
- Quality assurance and quality control
The next step was to do the sampling. I knew going into that it is hard to get kids to volunteer in class, but this was pressure—nothing but silence and blank stares. My first move was to explain something else at random, then see again if someone would take the plunge…kind of literally because they had to put on waders and go into the river to get the sample water.
So at that point I realized as I taught them the necessary parameters and how to use the sampling equipment, it was important to lead individuals into certain roles in order for them to work successfully and become a team in a short class period. Being in a leading position and putting others into roles is not something I have done before outside of a kitchen, so this task was a bit uncomfortable for me. In the process I was forced to learn about the students while learning about myself. I was pleased to find that the students were able to comprehend the information I doled out and listened to me out of respect.
One of the things I learned was that to be a leader in some cases, one must hold the interest of others in a large group setting. Since water quality sampling is not the most exciting task, it was difficult to keep the students’ attention. But somehow, I managed to keep the focus on the importance of water quality in addition to the interest of most of the students. It was very satisfying—a different type of satisfaction than other group work such as playing basketball as a team or completing a project.
After going through the first few sampling sites, I began gaining confidence. The students were somewhat interested in what they were doing and were engaging with me (mostly not on the topic of water quality, but it made me feel good!). The students learned quickly how to use the equipment and started figuring out how to go through the sampling process more efficiently on their own, so that was also a win for the team. I think it shows successful group work if the group can learn how to go through a process quicker while doing it correctly.
As a general lesson, I believe that working in groups is unavoidable no matter what career path one takes. Of course it is easy to get by keeping to oneself, but it seems like it would be difficult to move up and become a leader, especially in the environmental field. It is imperative that people put their heads together to keep a movement going and solve problems.