Students participating in the Temple Ambler Field Station Research Internship program aren't just involved in hands-on research, they are leading it.
"You don't have to wait to complete your degree to start making valuable contributions to science," said Dr. Mariana Bonfim, Research Assistant Professor with the Temple Ambler Field Station and the Department of Biology. "My personal goal for our interns is for them to see that they are scientists already."
Often people think of scientists "as that person in some faraway lab that doesn't talk to anyone," said Bonfim.
"In reality, our undergraduate students are scientists who are collaborating and communicating their findings to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in any field," she said. "We want this to be a meaningful experience for our students. Going through the process of being part of a scientific community simply helps to better connect you to the world around you."
According to Bonfim, the Temple Ambler Field Station Research Internship program is structured to welcome students from all majors regardless of previous research experience and grade level.
"We are seeking students interested in hands-on research experience; the internship is mostly focused on field-based activities and data. Most of what we're doing for the summer of 2022 is conducting a re-census of the Temple Forest Observatory following the tornado disturbance that occurred in September 2021 so that we can understand which species of plants have or have not survived," she said. "We're going back to the Temple Forest Observatory site that had been partially censused before the tornado storm, and re-censusing the standing woody stems so that we can determine overall tornado damage and forest resilience."
Current summer interns will continue their work through August, though other interns will be joining in the work during the second summer session for a shorter 6-week internship, said Bonfim.
While many of the interns will be contributing to the forest re-census, other interns will be contributing to the collaborative Ecosystems Services Project that is exploring the resilience of forest ecosystem services to global change. Field Station Director Dr. Amy Freestone is leading the project with support from the Temple Office of the Vice President for Research's Catalytic Collaborative Research Initiative.
"The project includes faculty from several different departments and colleges — geography, engineering, biology, horticulture, among others. Ecosystem services are any benefits that nature provides. For example, we all know that biodiversity is essentially important for habitats, food sources, ecological stability," Bonfim said. "This is a collaborative project to explore ecosystem services from numerous different perspectives — biodiversity, hydrology, horticulture, plant physiology — with a focus on carbon storage and sequestration, services that are critical to mitigating climate change."
Other student research interns will be participating in the Field Station's ongoing spotted lanternfly research. Dr. Brent Sewall, Associate Professor of Biology, and Dr. Freestone are leading a team of researchers and students to explore impacts of the spotted lanternfly on some of Pennsylvania's native plants. The interns will be working in the Field Station Research Array (located behind the Ambler Research and Collaboration Building) with different densities of spotted lanternfly inside several enclosures, in addition to ongoing research in many of the campus's natural areas.
Beyond being part of the larger projects, Bonfim said, each research student has the opportunity to develop their skills through their own independent research. The interns also explore aspects of field biology and forest ecology — bird diversity, wildlife activity, insect biodiversity, fungi biodiversity.
"They will go through the whole process of the scientific method — asking a question, elaborating a hypothesis, creating their own expectations based on theory, developing the methods to test those hypotheses, collecting their own data, and at the end analyzing that data to draw conclusions," she said. "It's a very powerful and valuable opportunity that a lot of students might not have the chance to experience during their undergraduate training. It truly empowers the students to understand how science works. You're going through the process of 'making science' yourself.
Research interns are encouraged to be "very independent scientists," said Bonfim.
"They meet regularly with a mentor that helps them through the process but the questions, the scientific literature search, the experimental design, everything comes from them. We provide support, but they are the leads in this whole scientific process with their independent research," she said. "I think the benefit of these hands-on opportunities is that it provides the baseline training in field biology. Students get the opportunity to be outside to learn field techniques, to tailor those techniques, and get exposed to other scientists. The field station welcomes scientists from numerous different Temple schools and colleges and even other institutions."
The students, Bonfim said, also build a dedicated collaborative community.
"They are an essential part of the Field Station. Everything they work on — all the projects they develop, all the data that they collect — helps advance the research field as a whole. That data is stored at the Field Station and used by other scientists or other student researchers. We also give our interns the opportunity to communicate those results," she said. "Each semester we have a Field Station Research and Education Symposium. While they work throughout these 12 weeks through their own projects and the larger Field Station projects, they also have the opportunity to present their findings, which is a very valuable skill, engaging in scientific communication. Scientific research is meant to be shared."
Two Field Station interns, Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity major Chloe Gehret, who is interning with the Smithsonian Institution for summer 2022, and Biology (Teaching) major and Temple Diamond Research Scholar Keri Kern, will be presenting their Field Station research at the Ecological Society of American and Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution Annual Meeting, which will be held in Montreal, Canada from August 14 through August 19. Bonfim and Freestone will also be speaking at the conference.
“I will be presenting a poster abstract at the conference. This will actually be my first conference and my first time out of the country, which is very exciting,” said Kern. “I’m also excited to hear about all of the research that will be presented — it’s a wonderful opportunity to connect with so many people in the field.”
For many of the interns, the Field Station is their first hands-on research experience,” Bonfim said.
“There is so much opportunity for growth, which I think is why many of our students keep coming back each semester,” she said. “(Gehret and Kern) after just one year with the Field Station are presenting their independent research at an international conference. I think our interns keep coming back because they are deeply engaged in the work they are doing.”
Josie Williams - Biology
"I took a Woody Plants class and really enjoyed it. The next semester, I took more STEM classes and I realized that was the career route I wanted to take," she said. "That first semester at Temple Ambler is what led me to the Field Station — learning about the trees was one of the highlights of my time at Temple. I knew this was a place I wanted to be to experience field work. I've had lab experience, but I hadn't had field experience before. It combined a lot of the experiences that I wanted into one internship."
During her Field Station internship, Williams said, "I definitely want more field research experience while also gaining a better understanding of what I want to do with my biology degree."
"With the Field Station, you get to be directly involved in how science is conducted in addition to getting to do our own projects. Having the campus available for our research is a wonderful opportunity to get hands on with what we're learning," she said. "The Ambler Arboretum is a learning facility; you have so many teachers and mentors available to you while conducting your research.
In addition to working on the re-census of the Temple Forest Observatory, Williams' personal research for the summer is focusing on decomposers in the forest.
"A lot of the trees have fallen because the tornado, but there were also trees that had fallen prior to that event just from natural processes," she said. "I'm going to be looking at types of decomposers on different types of trees that are at different stages of decomposition."
Justin Ryan - Environmental Science with a Concentration in Applied Ecology
Justice Ryan, has a particular interest in bioremediation, which is what led him to pursuing a degree in environmental science, which is offered by the Department of Earth and Environmental Science in the College of Science and Technology.
"I'm interested in pursing my PhD in marine ecology after college. The Field Station is my first research experience, particularly field research," she said. "I know that's something that's going to be required in my PhD program. The Temple Ambler Field Station seemed like the perfect fit to get my feet wet in applied research."
Not everyone gets to undertake their own field research as a student, Ryan said.
"I think with this experience you're ahead of the game whether it's moving on in your education or a career choice. I feel like I'll already have a solid basis in the scientific method and doing my own research, he said. "Specifically with the independent project, I hope to gain more experience crafting my own research questions and performing the necessary experiments to answer those questions. I love the people that I'm working with — making these connections has been a great experience."
In addition to participating in the re-census of the Temple Forest Observatory, Ryan said he will be studying ephemeral pools within the forest.
"Some of the trees that have fallen are 20, 30, 40 meters high. They create these massive divots in the ground from their root balls — those holes fill up with water after rain or melting snow, creating ephemeral pools," he said. "I'll be working with Mary Cortese (a PhD candidate in the Freestone Lab in Biology at Temple University and Research Assistant with the Temple Ambler Field Station) to study arthropod biodiversity within five of the different pools to see how it changes based on how far they are from the creek. We'll also be examining how it changes from the spring to the summer. A research intern began exploring this topic in the spring and I want to continue from there and see how it changes."
Ifeoluwa "Ife" Ogundele - Biology
Ife Ogundele, a senior in Biology (College of Science and Technology) with a minor in Healthcare Management, has always know she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. For her, the Field Station Internship was a conscience decision to gain experiences outside of her comfort zone.
"Having this opportunity to conduct hands-on research with the Field Station is definitely very different than anything I've done before. I thought it would be interesting to go outside what I'm comfortable with and what I'm used to. Now I know that being in the field is definitely something that I want to continue to pursue," said Ogundele, who will be contributing to the forest re-census. "I'm hoping for more knowledge about nature and the forest and more experience doing something that is so hands-on and so different from what I normally do."
The Field Station experience, she said, "has already made me more curious about the world."
"Before, I used to go through life not really looking at my surroundings. Now every time I go somewhere, I'm curious about the kinds of trees I'm seeing — it's making me more in tune with my surroundings," she said. "I went through the Frances Velay Fellowship, which is specially for women in STEM. I developed a hypothesis to study even before I arrived at the Field Station. I'm going to be studying animal behavior before and after the tornado, examining what has changed and shifted."
Colin Lynch - Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity
It was an excellent AP Environmental Science class in high school that led senior Colin Lynch to double majoring in Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity and Environmental Science in Temple's College of Science and Technology. Taking Temple's new Disturbance Ecology course, which is offered by the Field Station and the Temple Biology program, only solidified his choice.
"That gave me a real feel for the Field Station. I enjoyed working with (Dr. Bonfim) and the atmosphere at Temple Ambler. I was happy to have the opportunity to continue learning about field research with the Field Station this summer," he said. "I was previously involved in an internship focused on geomorphology. I'm excited to be involved in applied research and develop these field methods through ecology. Geomorphology is fascinating, but ecology is something that I have a lot of passion for."
Field research as a student, Lynch said, "compliments your education so well."
"You're picking up concepts in your classes, but that really doesn't clue you into what it is truly like to be a researcher. With research you have to decern for yourself what you are learning — it's a much different experience, he said. "Being able to apply what you're learning in your courses while making discoveries and answering new questions is invaluable. As a student looking to go to graduate school, the connections I've been able to make — other students in graduate school or planning to go to graduate school or pursuing PHDs, mentors who have already been through the process — have been essential. Professors like Dr. Sewall and Dr. Freestone are a wonderful support system for someone like me just starting out in this process."
As a Field Station Research Intern, Lynch will be focusing his work on research related to the Ecosystems Services Project.
"I'm working with (Field Station Research Technician) Dan (Taratut) on a project with a lot of principal investigators from multiple disciplines," he said. "We're working on determining carbon storage as an ecosystem service in the Temple Forest Observatory in comparison to nearby Robbins Park, which was not severally damaged by the tornado last September."
His independent project, he said, is built upon a proposal developed during his Disturbance Ecology class, he said.
"One of my passions is studying birds. I want to study the avian biodiversity at Temple Ambler in comparison with Robbins Park. A disturbed forest is a very different environment; how has that effected our bird populations on campus?" he said. "You may have the same number of species but the proportions of them have almost certainly shifted. The western side of the plot, which is relatively undamaged, has orioles and towhees, which you would expect, but we're seeing catbirds, which you'll usually find on forest edges, all through our forest now because it has changed so dramatically."
Keri Kern - Biology (Teaching)
Temple Diamond Research Scholar
“I’ve always really enjoyed science classes. In high school, I took as many science classes as possible to find out what aspects of science I truly liked and wanted to focus on,” she said. “I discovered biology and after taking AP biology, I knew I wanted to pursue it as a career. Combined with biology, teaching is my passion — that is what I want to share with other students and hopefully get them just as passionate about STEM education.”
Kern has been a Field Station Research Intern for more than a year, arriving at Temple Ambler in summer 2021.
“I really love how the Field Station feels like a family,” she said. “Everybody is willing to help and support each other with our research projects. It’s a very team-oriented environment.”
Last summer, Kern said, she participated in the Temple Forest Observatory census prior to the tornado.
“I was measuring the above ground biomass throughout the forest and looking at how that contributed to the carbon storage capacity of our forest,” she said. “We were able to compare the above ground biomass before and after the tornado to study the differences and explore the change from above ground biomass to deadwood biomass.”
This summer Kern is continuing to assist with the post-tornado census of the forest, she said.
“Right night, we’re focusing on shrubs and any trees that were missed prior to the tornado,” she said. “For my personal project, I’ll be measuring the above ground biomass of the shrub layer in our forest. I’ll be looking at the number and biomass of invasive species in particular.”
During the spring semester, Kern was named a Temple Diamond Research Scholar. The Diamond Research Scholars Program provides Temple undergraduates the opportunity to engage in a focused, mentored research or creative arts project during the summer and fall. The program requires that students participate in the all-day Undergraduate Research Institute, devote ten weeks during the summer to develop a research project in their area of interest under the direction of their faculty mentor, and complete the project during the fall semester.
“Being a Diamond Scholar is definitely an honor. It’s exciting; not all of the students in the program are from the College of Science and Technology,” she said. “I’m getting to learn about not only my project but additionally hearing about everyone else’s projects. Some of the projects are related to humanities and other disciplines. I’m able to get advice and suggestions for my project from a broad range of students — it provides a lot of different perspectives.”
Being outside in the forest conducting research “is an invaluable opportunity to experience what field work is all about,” Kern said.
“I hope that in the future I can continue in field research. I would like to continue on to graduate school and then my PhD, she said. “I think that the research that I’m doing now has definitely given me the right motivation — before this experience I really didn’t even know about my love for ecology. I want to pursue a career in teaching at the college level.”
Emily Konchan - Biology
Emily Konchan, a senior Biology major in the College of Science and Technology, has a particular passion for nature and animals. A career involving wildlife was an obvious choice, she said. Taking the opportunity to get hands-on experience while still a student was just as obvious, she said.
"I've enjoyed all my classes at Temple in my last three years, but none of them really had any hands-on experiences. I wanted to be in the field and do something rather than just learning from a textbook," she said. "I hope to learn solid field research methods. We have the opportunity to determine a good independent research project, which gives us the chance to work through the entire scientific method from start to finish."
The hands-on experience with the Field Station "is very helpful in figuring out what I want to do later in life and in my career," Konchan said.
"I'm enjoying doing my own research beyond just reading about what others have already found — I feel like I'm making a real contribution to the work of the Field Station. During the summer, I'll be working with the team that is researching spotted lanternflies," she said. "We'll be collecting spotted lanternflies from the trap bags placed all around campus. I'll also be working on setting up some ongoing experiments in the Field Station Research Array."
While still determining her independent project, Konchan said, "I'm leaning toward researching weather the spotted lanternflies have preferences toward certain grape cultivars or possibly studying the effect the lanternflies have on other plant pollinators."
Joseph Welch - Civil Engineering
Joseph Welch, a junior Civil Engineering (College of Engineering) major with a concentration in Environmental Engineering, chose his field "because I want to improve the infrastructure we rely on in an environmentally friendly manner."
"I decided to apply to become a Field Station Research Intern because I saw an opportunity to learn more engineering skills in an environment that feeds into my interest in ecology. I hope to develop technical skills while becoming a better researcher that can face challenging scientific questions with a logical approach," he said. "This summer, the goal of my personal project is to understand the hydrology in a disturbed forest through a computer hydrology model. This means I need to find a suitable model for my research question, take the proper measurements in the field, and analyze the results of this data to describe the processes going on in the Temple Forest Observatory.
Welch said he is additionally working with two PhD students to collect and analyze storm water, which collects contamination off of Route I-95.
"Engaging in hands-on field work has helped me to apply knowledge in the classroom to a project I genuinely care about," he said. "Additionally, by practically apply this equipment in my research, I gain a better understanding of how it works and how I can use it in future projects."
About the Temple Ambler Field Station Research Internship Program
Students gain advanced training by engaging in hands-on research internships that bring alive the excitement of science through an inquiry-based experience. Student interns work alongside researchers in the field to support ongoing projects and can develop investigations of their own.
Students interested in becoming a Field Station Research Intern, should reach out to the Temple Ambler Field Station at email@example.com with their name, why they are interested in working with the Field Station, current transcripts, and current resume.
The Temple Ambler Field Station accepts undergraduate interns through Temple University College of Science and Technology's Undergraduate Research Program, Science Scholars Program, and Frances Velay Fellowship Program, and Temple University's Diamond Research Scholars Program, among other programs.
Undergraduates are also welcome to apply for credit-bearing internships experiences and should contact the Field Station for more information. The Field Station particularly encourages applicants from populations under-represented in science.