My Voice: Learning While Mentoring
Last spring Kelsey Cowen ’16 approached me about potentially doing an internship with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension (UNHCE) and NH Sea Grant, where I am a marine fisheries specialist working with New Hampshire’s commercial fishing industry and coastal habitat conservation. Kelsey had a Lynk-funded internship from the College and was looking for a research and community outreach experience. I had several projects in mind that would be good for an intern, though admittedly I wasn’t certain how I might fund one or if I wanted to supervise an internship. It was Kelsey’s Mount Holyoke affiliation that made me reconsider. Kelsey joined me on June 10, and for ten weeks we worked together in the field (aka the beach), at the office, and some days in my driveway while we waited for samples to dry out in the sun.
Kelsey’s marine fisheries internship was comprehensive. She was exposed to fieldwork, protocol design and development, data collection, geographic information systems, and outreach and education. She used technical and reasoning skills she gained as a physics major to help me develop and test a protocol that may change how I conduct my research in this area. She also began thinking about how to use what she has learned from me to enhance her work in her senior year. For example, as part of her capstone course this fall, Kelsey began to think about doing a comprehensive primary-source research project on microplastics, covering topics such as their ecological effects and the public’s role in this type of research.
I came to see my role not as Kelsey’s superior . . . but as a colleague.Gabriela Bradt ’96
Mentoring Kelsey came about naturally, whether we were sitting in my office, processing samples of sand looking for minute pieces of plastic, or spending hours on a hot, crowded beach, measuring out transects while getting curious looks from beachgoers. We discussed everything from better ways to modify my research design to my experiences in graduate school to politics, women’s issues, minimum wage, confidence in the workplace, how MHC has changed (or not changed) since I was there, and what she hopes to do after graduation. I came to see my role not as Kelsey’s superior, telling her intern what to do, but as a colleague, teaching and learning from another colleague. The fact that we are both Mount Holyoke women facilitated our abilities to work together in this way. We are both highly independent, eager to learn, and like to talk about everything.Kelsey has an understated confidence and a willingness to do pretty much anything. Her independence has made working with her easy because she doesn’t need to be “managed,” and this enabled us to spend more time actually working than training. I enjoyed working with her primarily because I trusted that I could send her out to do field work alone and that she would do a good job. And I trusted that she would produce quality results.
I will miss working with Kelsey, and I hope that she and I will keep reconnecting in the future. Besides the lessons learned from her internship, I hope she has also gotten a glimpse into how I have managed, as a mom and a working woman in science, to “do it all” in a realistic way. And, thanks to Kelsey, I am definitely open to hosting other Mount Holyoke interns in the future.
This article appeared in the fall 2014 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.
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October 15, 2014