A Year in the Life of a Conservation Corpsmember

A Year in the Life of a Conservation Corpsmember

LaRyssa Nelson, Monitoring and Education Corpsmember

Hello!  My name is LaRyssa Nelson and I am the current Monitoring and Education Conservation Corpsmember at the International Water Institute!  I began my service term in January of 2020; jumping right into training for IWI’s Staff holding their decorated canoesRiver of Dreams program. Last year, IWI welcomed their two newest employees and we all went through the training together (see photo to the right). This was nice because I wasn’t the only newbie to learn everything. River of Dreams is a program that teaches students from 4th through 6th grade about their local watershed through the use of the book Paddle to the Sea. This book follows the journey of a little handmade canoe that begins on a snowbank in Nipigon Country and ends at the Atlantic Ocean. We related this to our watershed by having students map out the journey their canoe would take if they dropped it into their local river, which, eventually, they get to do. All our current students live in the Red River Basin which includes tributaries to the Red River of the North. The Red River flows north into Lake Winnipeg, then makes its way into the Nelson River, and eventually into the Hudson Bay. When the school visits started, we would visit the classrooms in pairs or groups and by the end of the spring, we had reached 50+ classrooms. This was one of my favorite parts of the year.

Another program at IWI is River Watch. River Watch works with high school students in the Red River Basin. Each year River Watch teams take part in the River Watch Forum where they participate in various water/river related activities and find out who wins the annual Forum Assignment. The River Watch Assignment for the 2019-2020 Asher awarding the Manager's Choice Award during the Virtual Conferenceschool year was to create an activity that targeted IWIs least represented age groups; K-3rd graders or adults. Unfortunately, we were unable to have our event in person, but we had a blast creating videos and engaging over Facebook. It made for a great 25th River Watch Forum.

In comparison to past Conservation Corps service members, I’ve spent more time working from home. I think this had to be my biggest learning curve. I had not yet had a job where I worked at a desk for more than an afternoon. I was used to doing fieldwork or student field trips every day. During a longer “work from home” period in March, I learned how to run Flux32 calculations with the MPCA and how to interpret a hydrograph. Both of these were things I had never seen before, so it was nice to keep my mind occupied while also learning how to best work at a desk all day.

We did not start taking water quality samples until the second part of May, whereas normally the open water season would start at ice-out (end of March, the beginning of April). My first time out was completely hands-on, due to Danielle only being able to explain what to do instead of working alongside me. In the long run, I think this helped me catch on quicker. I was able to get my full route of samples completed by myself by the second time I went out. Asher awarding the Manager's Choice Award during the Virtual ConferenceThis was good, because, by June 8th, we were collecting samples almost every day. My routine sampling route was a 310-mile round trip in the Northeast Red River Basin. Also throughout the sampling season, I would visit Danielle’s sites in the South Red River Basin, which were closer to my hometown.

Once sampling started to settle down, we were able to begin interacting with students again. We nailed down social distance protocols that allowed us to get out and kayak with River Watch students and also do some macroinvertebrate sampling. The data we collected while macroinvertebrate sampling is being used to create a virtual activity for students who are unable to get out in the field with us. I have been working with GIS a lot for this project, which I haven’t been able to use since college. It’s been fun troubleshooting with the tools available on ArcGIS Online and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to get started with GIS. This is an ongoing project that I will continue and finish when I return in 2021.

Though I didn’t have the “typical” service year compared to past IWI corps members, I’ve had so much fun getting to know my coworkers and the students that we work with.  Which makes this update even more fun; I will be returning to complete a second AmeriCorps service term in 2021! I can’t wait to see what this next year has in store for us.