Out West Blog

Notes, photos and updates from the Center's student researchers and summer interns working at organizations across the region.


Getting Down, Getting Out



Image: Be a good intern, and you'll get a cupcake.

By Iain Espey
B.A., Philosophy, 2018
Sales and Marketing at Heyday

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

Before the end of spring quarter, each Bill Lane intern was asked to fill out a “learning plan” for the summer. In mine, I was flippant. Plan what I’m going to learn? Um, doesn’t that seem kind of contrary to actual learning? I figured anything of real value that I’d learn wouldn’t be the sort of thing I could pin down before having learned it. You don’t walk in and shake hands with life lessons; they sneak up on you.

So, what did I plan on learning in my internship? About publishing, that’s what. And what would I do with my time outside of work? I claimed I would visit every coffee shop in Berkeley and create a psychogeographic representation of the city based on that. (I have a BOSP Overseas Seminar/beach vacation on the Croatian coast to thank for that post-Marxist malarkey.) The former I did do, but (surprise!) the second I never got around to.

The first thing I had to learn is that I’d have to learn what I’d have to learn: a confusing, not particularly comfortable position. For example, sometime during my first week on the job, my boss asked me to make an events e-blast that would be sent out to Heyday’s thousands of newsletter subscribers. “You’ve used HTML, right?” Well, no, I hadn’t used HTML before, and I couldn’t help but wonder, Should I have? I’m twenty years old and I don’t even really know what HTML is; did I screw up somewhere along the line?

As the summer went on, I began to get a sense of what jobs took what skills, what kind of experience it takes to advance from mailing postcards and carrying boxes to doing a job where you’re actually in charge of something, and what skills I lacked that I should probably get on developing. This, I now realize, is an important kind of learning, one I never really considered having to do, and one that I now foresee spending much of my twenties doing.

Of many most important parts of my experience at Heyday, perhaps the most-most important was the informational interviews with the staff. Most of the time, these interviews started out with a question to me and my fellow intern, Kate: What do you want to know? And our response can be summed up in two subsequent questions: What do you do, and how did you get your job? These, for me, were and are the big questions. This may come as a surprise to those of you who have been adults for a while, but it’s been difficult for me to imagine what life in the working world actually feels like, how it feels and what it even means to do a job.

Two moments have stuck with me most from these interviews. The first was when Heyday’s sales manager, Christopher, said that it takes a year to learn to do any job. I thought on that comment for days afterward. I felt there was some significance in it that I couldn’t quite grasp, until finally I understood. A year is a long time for anyone, but it is a hell of a lot longer for a twenty-year-old. I have trouble even staying focused on a single Youtube conspiracy theory video for more than four minutes (I watch them on 1.25 speed so I can move on quicker); to spend a full year learning a single job is unfathomable to me. I hadn’t understood the scale of time involved in adult life until then.

And then there was my interview with Steve Wasserman, Heyday’s incoming publisher. “What did you learn in college that most helped you when you started working?” I asked. Without hesitation, he said, “How to type.” Perfectly reasonable for a man who graduated in the early seventies, I thought, but sort of unhelpful to a millennial. He may have adopted the computer, but I was born to use it. My generation was typing before we could speak, flexing our texting thumbs while floating in the womb. The comment stayed with me, and again it took time for me to unravel its importance. Yes, there are skills that I lack that I want to develop, but the other side of the coin is the realization that I already have the basic skills necessary to do many jobs. There’s knowing how to use database programs or write copy or create a sell sheet, but there’s another, less demonstrable kind of knowledge that comes having applied those skills in different ways, in different contexts. That, I have come to think, is what “job experience” really consists of.

Now, as I wrap up my final day in the Heyday office, there is a lot I can take away from this experience. Some of it is easy to put into words, some of it, not so much. I know exactly what some of it means, while some of it may only come to “mean” something in the light of years to come. Whatever lies ahead of me, I greet it, as always, with a side-eye and a healthy dose of suspicion.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Landscapes Aren’t the Only Resilient Thing at SFEI



Image: Photographing historical documents at the Society of California Pioneers.

By Kate Roberts
B.S. Earth Systems, 2017
Resilient Landscapes Intern at the San Francisco Estuary Institute

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

In terms of academics and career, I can fully say that I’ve learned so much more than I could have imagined at the beginning of the summer. In my learning plan, I wrote that I wanted to do different things than what I’d studied in class, and I most definitely have. From learning how to skim captain’s journals from the 1890s (cursive back then was crazy, let me tell ya), to creating graphics for sediment placement plans, to interviewing businesses over the phone on their experience with native landscaping, to writing introductory paragraphs for reports, to teaching myself GIS, I branched out in so many ways than I had before.

This was due in huge part to the incredible people I worked with this summer. Even though I had almost no experience with the tools and techniques I’d be using on several of these projects, my coworkers had an incredible amount of trust in my ability, and this allowed me to try so many new things. They gave me a ton of freedom in shaping the direction of these projects, and that seemed pretty rare to me. Their kindness and accessibility gave me the confidence to speak my mind, try new ideas, and really explore the projects that I was enjoying. These people worked long hours to meet project deadlines, planned extensively to meet budgets, and are extremely passionate about the work that they do. If I had worked with another set of individuals, I might have had a less exciting and less beneficial summer. There were several stages in projects I worked on where they could have been handed off to a more experienced person, but they allowed me to experiment with the data and material on my own. This definitely pushed me to grow a lot and think beyond what I already knew.

Coming into this summer, I really didn’t know what types of projects I would be working on. I could not have imagined the vast number of different types of projects that are worked on at SFEI. It completely opened my eyes to all the possibilities that exist in these types of organizations. From water quality to historical ecology to human health to climate change, I witnessed a seemingly endless number of combinations, making each project unique. It also made me realize that I can be happy working on many different kinds of projects. I saw how possible it is to create a niche for yourself in this work environment, how you can find projects that really interest you in all types of programs and subjects.

Most importantly, I’ve realized just how much of a role the people I work with play in my experience. The people at SFEI had a tremendous impact on my summer and made my time here truly wonderful. From trivia night to group lunches to long car rides to chatting in the kitchen, the people I worked with this summer made me laugh, pushed me to think independently, gave me life advice, helped me grow, and in the end, make me sad to leave SFEI.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

The Summit After Freshman Year



Image: A photo from the top of Cloud's Rest (9,930 feet from the ground).

By Rachel Lam
Undeclared, 2019
Museum Intern at Yosemite National Park

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

I am nineteen years old. Last June I finished my first year at Stanford University and then promptly began an internship at Yosemite National Park. I work in Yosemite Valley at the park’s museum. Over 5 million natural and cultural objects make up our collections – including paintings and prints by Thomas Hill and Chiura Obata, negatives and photographs by Carleton Watkins and Ansel Adams, Paiute and Miwok basketry, native herbarium, native biological and geological specimens, and other Yosemite artifacts like historic park ranger gear.

Though I’m not exactly sure what I will major in or what jobs I’ll hold in the future, last winter I decided that this summer I would work in a museum. Three interests of mine intersect in museums: art, history, and anthropology. I wanted to see if museum work was something I might want to do as a career. So I applied to a few internships and decided to work in the museum at Yosemite.

So far my work has comprised of inventorying, cataloging, rehousing, researching, and writing descriptions for exhibits. I like the latter two tasks the most. The first three are interesting because I get to handle fascinating objects, but the actual tasks are a bit too repetitive for my tastes. I like how when I research or write, every word I read or make is new. My internship allows for a special project which I create and complete myself. I’ve decided to research the park service’s relationship with the seven American Indian tribes traditionally associated with the Yosemite area. I hope to revise several web pages on the official Yosemite National Park website and perhaps lay the groundwork for a future exhibit. It’s a very complex topic with a lot of conflict. I have been reading books on the subject and was able to attend the 14th Annual All Tribes Meeting - where Yosemite National Park Service leaders meet with leaders from the local native communities. I’ve learned a lot of the history of their relations and some of it is quite sad, for example the last native eviction by the park service was in 1969 and involved burning native homes. However, the meeting gave me a sense of hope. All of the people in attendance were very respectful of each other. It seems like today’s park service and tribal leaders have begun to forge better relationships. They are attempting to work together to care for area they all love immensely.

After a busy (and sometimes very stressful) year at Stanford, this internship feels a bit like a retreat. I have a lot of time to think, hike, read, swim, draw, adventure, and journal. All activities I love, but didn’t really do as much as I’d have liked this school year. One of my favorite hikes so far has been Cloud’s Rest. It’s a challenging hike - 14.4 miles round trip. It leads to one of the best views in the park. I’ve never been able to see so far in all directions before. From that vantage, the earth seems to want to impress upon her viewers a sense of adventure, appreciation, and acceptance. The summit of Cloud’s Rest feels a bit like my internship at Yosemite and this summer in general. I can see how far I’ve come in nineteen years of life. I can see the many directions in which one can go. I’m not sure what I will do in the future, but somehow I know that it'll be okay.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Farewell to Life in Ashton



Image: Pictured left to right: Justin, Jack (graduate intern), Sam (W&L intern at Flat Ranch), Reid (W&L intern at HFF), and Melissa (research associate), atop Mount Borah

By Justin Appleby
B.S., Civil & Environmental Engineering, 2017
Environmental Modeling Intern at Henry's Fork Foundation

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

On March 8, I found out I’d be spending my summer in a small town of just over one thousand people, called Ashton, Idaho and practically jumped for joy in the back of a classroom. I texted my parents and friends and group chats, and I started to plan all I would do during my most adventurous summer yet. On June 9, I left Stanford, buzzing for all of the outdoors opportunities the weekends would provide, yet cautiously optimistic about my ability to accomplish the project that had been set out for me. And now, nine and a half weeks into my internship, with three days in the office left to go, I look back on what has turned out to be an unforgettable summer. I saw so much of this geologically and visually stunning area, and I learned so much from my work on the project given to me. Through my project, which has seemingly grown every week, and helped to set up the Foundation for long term success in water quality studies along the Henry’s Fork, I have learned so much about web development, data management, legal issues with water rights, self-teaching, and the non-profit environment. Living out here has helped me grow in so many ways and I feel ready for the next step: applying what I learned here to my future and making sure I set myself up for the long-term.

Project Update

It became clear as I undertook this project, that I would only be able to touch the tip of the iceberg. The end goal for this project is a fully functioning web app displaying live data from twelve sondes in a variety of interactive ways, certainly not a project one single intern can spend one summer finishing. What I can present at the end of the summer, however, is a simple web app with the framework in place for another incoming tech-savvy intern to make extensions to functionality, extensive research and notes on automatic data transmission and continuous monitoring, a single deployed data logger transmitting data from one site to the office on an hourly or bihourly basis, and notes on how to ensure the longevity of this web app, as data files increase from one or two years in size to upwards of ten or twenty years.

I can’t say how long it will take to reach the finished product, but I can say that the way forward is paved, and I am excited to see what Melissa, our new research associate Bryce, and future interns can accomplish with the foundation I have built for this project. It was a pleasure showing Melissa and Bryce my progress today, going almost line-by-line and remembering how many hours I spent trying to make certain lines work. Lately I have been hitting roadblocks that would take longer and longer – the most recent one taking two days – to surmount. It was fun to flashback a few weeks and remember how far I have come.

The Weekends

In my last blog post, I talked about reaching higher elevations each time I took a trip into the mountains, with the highest being Buck Mountain in the Tetons, just shy of twelve thousand feet. Since then, I have hiked to the state high-points in both Montana and Idaho, Granite Peak and Mount Borah, both well above twelve thousand. Accompanying me on the trip to Mount Borah were Reid and Jack, both interns who left last weekend, and Melissa. It was a memorable trip and a culmination of all the bonding we got to do over the course of the summer.

Both mountains were incredible in completely different ways. To reach Granite Peak, my Stanford friend and I had to trek through a dozen miles of total wilderness, with hardly a trail in sight. We plunged in near-freezing lakes and took shelter from afternoon storms in total isolation. To reach Mount Borah’s summit required a mile of elevation gain in just under four miles of trail that sometimes felt closer to a dirty Stairmaster than a hiking trail. And you could see the parking lot from the summit. I also took a one-night trip to City of Rocks National Reserve, in southern Idaho, a playground of spires, boulders, and towers, a climber’s paradise.

Leaving Ashton

Living out here, as fun and fascinating as it’s been, has not been completely easy. Eight months since Christmas make this the longest time I have been away from home in my life, and that number will grow to nine before I see Massachusetts again. Sometimes the cell service falters for entire evenings at a time, disrupting plans I have to call home or talk to the people I miss. It has gotten lonely out here ever since the rest of the interns moved on, but that has given me time to contemplate and narrow down decisions about my long-term future, and mentally compile all that has happened, good and bad, this summer and this past year. I may not have another time in the near future or in my life where I can pause and reflect like this and that has no doubt been a good thing.

Looking Ahead

I will be starting my Senior year at Stanford in about a month, and I plan to finish my Civil Engineering degree and pursue a masters at Stanford as well. The two fields I am considering within the Civil and Environmental Engineering department are “Atmosphere & Energy” and “Structural Engineering & Geomechanics.” Hopefully some of my coursework in the fall will help me decide before the application deadline in early January. Before then, a week from today will be the climax of my climbing summer, as I attempt to summit the Grand Teton. The day after, I leave the Greater Yellowstone Area for good on what promises to be an epic road trip to Southern Utah’s canyon country with my sister. All of this has been planned to ensure I arrive on campus in time for the Stanford Football home opener against Kansas State, September 2.

I cannot wait for everything that is to come. Another year at Stanford, another football season, an epic road trip, and surely more adventures and stories to tell. I have no plans for next summer, but I can’t imagine having a more incredible summer than this one, one where I learned so much, saw even more, grew in so many ways, put to shame those who didn’t think Idaho would be fun, and had some of the best and most important ten weeks I can remember.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Adventures On and Off the Pacific Northwest Trail



Image: Sunset on the Pacific Northwest Trail in the Kettle Range

By Courtney Pal
B.S., Earth Systems: Anthrosphere and B.A., Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, 2018
Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Intern in Colville, Washington

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

When I think back on these past two months in Colville, Washington, what stands out to me the most is the breathtaking places that I’ve seen and the interesting people that I’ve met. Take last night, for example. I spent the evening sitting on the porch of Snow Peak Cabin, a little shelter nestled high in the Kettle Crest. Pouring through the trail registers for the past few years, it was easy to see the growth in popularity of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNT), the trail on which the cabin sits—and the trail I’ve spent the past two months studying.

“7-23-10,” one entry is dated. “Greetings to whomever. We, I believe, are two of only one or two other PNT hikers currently on the trail.” Then, jump ahead a few years—now it’s 2015, and another set of thru-hikers have made an entry. “We wish we had gotten here at 5:30pm rather than 9:30am,” this one says. It doesn’t mention that there will be somewhere close to 20 additional thru-hikers coming through that same summer. The trail isn’t crowded now by any means, but it’s not as rare to spot a PNT thru-hiker these days. As I found out, you can ask almost any business owner in either of the three trail towns that I've worked with-- Metaline Falls, Northport, and Republic. The hikers are coming through now more and more regularly, bringing with them the opportunity for towns to develop a sustainable recreation economy.

Off the trail, my main task has been hosting community meetings in each of the three trail towns located in Northeastern Washington. Prior to these meetings, I had spent time going door-to-door in towns talking to local business owners and residents about the economic opportunities the trail offered. I was excited that the meetings would offer the opportunity for an even greater segment of the public to get involved in planning how their community could grow around the trail. Indeed, some of the most insightful comments that I heard dealt not singularly with business or recreation, but the intersections between enhancing those opportunities and also highlighting community history, encouraging healthier lifestyles, and growing a sense of town pride. While much of the opposition to the trail that I had encountered in my position came from a fear that it would change traditional rural ways of life, at these meetings people came together to brainstorm ways in which it could preserve tradition and uplift it. I was especially enthusiastic to hear ideas in Northport about allowing hikers to use amenities at a newly planned local museum and visitor’s center. There is no shortage of great ideas in these towns to utilize the opportunities that the PNT provides.

Looking back on my plans for this summer, there are some things that I was not able to do—while I promised myself I’d learn how to bake three different huckleberry recipes, the huckleberry muffins that I made were so delicious I didn’t have the heart to make anything else after. Also, I may have found that I have a slight preference for wild raspberries… although that’s blasphemy to say around here, so I keep quiet about it! Other goals for my internship have definitely been fulfilled. Working with both the US Forest Service and Tri County Economic Development District has allowed me to sample the same interdisciplinary fields that I study in class, in the real world. I’ve enjoyed my adventures this summer – both the ones on and off the trail – so much, and learned so much from them as well.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

The Future is Local, and So is Our Environment



Image: Walking tour with TPL colleagues in the Tenderloin neighborhood, SF.

By Sarah Flamm
M.P.P. 2016
Grants and Government Affairs Intern at the Trust for Public Land

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

This summer at the Trust for Public Land (TPL) in San Francisco, I have had my first official exposure to environmental policy. I see how TPL’s goals in securing people’s access to the outdoors is a critical piece in the puzzle of improving people’s life quality and helping meet their basic needs. Going forward I expect to incorporate this experience into future public policy and community development work.

As my final week wraps up with the Grant and Government Affairs teams, I reflect upon my experience and have several random takeaways:

  • Environmental conservation is inherently a local, grass roots effort. There is no way around it; you have to know the community and the land in order to be able to effectively help transform it into a usable park or thoroughfare. Working with the affected community is paramount to successful policy outcomes. TPL staff members regularly travel to their work sites to see the landscape first hand and meet with community members. For example, I enjoyed going on a walking tour of the Tenderloin neighborhood to better understand the community and its history.
     
  • Perhaps this is obvious, but I have been impressed by the amount of work and variety of skill sets that go into preserving land here at TPL. There are many teams: lawyers to deal with angry residents who do not like how their space has been transformed; designers to construct parks, green alleyways, and trails; marketers to promote TPL’s projects and garner support for new plans; philanthropists to help keep the lights on via donors; grant writers to secure government funding; policy outreach to promote sound enviro-friendly initiatives—it really is a full shop. The bigger an organization gets, the more bases need to be covered, multiplied by the geographic space in which it works.
     
  • Environmental policy bureaucracy in California is complex, especially when it comes to water and transportation. In my investigations into funding sources I have come across various, often overlapping authorities. For example, there are Nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards and 48 Integrated Regional Water Management Groups, both of which are tasked with slightly different, yet related missions. This complexity may reflect the sensitivity and battle to control water issues in the state.
     

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Making Parks for People a Reality



Image: A day in the office with supervisors Kat and Eva

By Sarah Flamm
Master's in Public Policy, 2016
Grants and Government Affairs Intern at the Trust for Public Land

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

The future is urban. But if you are an outdoors enthusiast like me who is happiest in a redwood forest or a grassy field, this may be cause for concern. The Trust for Public Land (TPL) aims to ameliorate the challenges posed by increasing urbanization by ensuring everyone in the United States, especially those in cities, live within a 10-minute walk of safe parks and outdoor spaces.

TPL is motivated by the belief that natural spaces should be a part of our daily lives, whether it is commuting to work through a green alleyway or a bike trail along the bay; taking lunch in a neighborhood park; or getting away for a weekend in the woods. TPL’s work is expansive; I am constantly learning about new initiatives to preserve habitats, open spaces, regional trails, farmlands, rural economies, and more. The focus is on nature, but not nature in a faraway place, rather enabling human-outdoor interaction.

I am working for the California grants and government affairs teams at TPL headquarters in San Francisco. TPL is a national non-profit organization with over 30 offices nationwide and over 400 employees. Our main goal on the grants team is to design, fund and implement environmental projects. It helps that the health and economic benefits associated with parks and public spaces are easily defensible. So far, I have organized meetings with TPL staff and state representatives from Los Angeles to support a park initiative; supported TPL grant applications; investigated new funding sources for potential projects; and helped plan and conceptualize an upcoming conference on Green Infrastructure and Climate Change in the Bay Area. I have learned a lot about local land projects, California state politics, and how TPL operates as a large successful non-profit. I look forward to visiting Sacramento next month to witness TPL’s lobbying efforts.

TPL often provides parks in disadvantaged communities, giving all kids a safe place to play. TPL uses a participatory model in developing and implementing its projects, working with the community at stake to meet their needs and desires. With these benefits also come challenges: parks drive up property values and can force out low-income residents. The difficulty lies in countering the displacement that is a byproduct of creating a pleasant, healthful urban space. I look forward to exploring this issue further and figuring out what policy measures might be taken to mitigate this problem.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

When Looking Forward Requires Looking Back: Historical Ecology at the San Francisco Estuary Institute



Image: Cattails at dawn in Big Break Park. Taken on a photo assignment in the San Joaquin Delta earlier this summer.

By Kate Roberts
B.S., Earth Systems, 2017
Resilient Landscapes Intern at the San Francisco Estuary Institute

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

The pages feel fragile in my hands, browned and brittle with age, as I carefully leaf through them. Flyers from the Sebastopol Apple Festival, postcards from Santa Rosa, newspapers from Petaluma, each carefully inspected and skimmed before moving onto the next. Every once in a while, something will grab my eye, a sentence about flooding, soil, or irrigation, and I’ll snap a picture of the page, before moving on to the next piece of history. It’s my third day at the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI), and I already feel deeply immersed in the history of the Petaluma River, buried deep in the stacks of Sonoma State University.

I’m working with SFEI’s Resilient Landscapes Program this summer on a number of projects. In order to restore a landscape or ecosystem, scientists need to know what a “restored” ecosystem would look like, and how it would function. One way that SFEI decided do this is through Historical Ecology (Check out more info in this this New York Times article). It involves digging through dozens of archives and historical documents. Sentences here and there are compiled with maps and other pieces of data to create an image of both how the landscape looked, and also of the important ecosystem functions that could help this region adapt to climate change. One such project is the Petaluma River, and I’ve been working on collecting data from archives, book searches and online databases on everything from the river itself to its tributaries and marshes.

The program also works with many other organizations to combine modern data with advanced tools and cultural knowledge to reshape other landscapes around the bay. One such project is a plan to plant Oak trees in Santa Clara County, once a vast Oak Savannah, now a bustling city. I’ve been helping collect and compile data on the species that would be impacted by bringing the Oaks back. Oaks are incredibly important for biodiversity, hosting hundreds of native species from birds to mammals to butterflies. I’ve been using online databases like GBIF and Vertnet to find data to map how the species’ populations have shifted over the past years. Later on, we will use GIS to create visual maps of the species’ shifts, to better inform the planting of the Oaks. My typical day here varies from data analysis, transcribing and finding historical data, managing images for an upcoming report, getting lost in different libraries and archives, and sitting in on meetings with all sorts of different organizations around the bay. One day I even got to go out and take pictures for hours throughout the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta (see picture above)!

As an environmental scientist, I’ve found that I’m constantly looking ahead, thinking about climate change, development, invasive species, sea level rise, etc. But at SFEI, they’ve realized that sometimes the best way of preparing for the future is by studying the past. This is a totally different approach than I’ve ever thought about taking, and each day I feel like I’m learning more and more how important understanding the past is for making important environmental change for the future.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

50 Nifty United States...and 127 Ballot Measures (and counting)



Image: Cheesman Park sits right outside my window and it is truly beautiful as the sun sets. Also, all the runners make me guilty enough to run.

By Princess Umodu
Political Science Major, C/O 2017
Elections Intern at the National Conference of State Legislatures

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

My time in Denver started almost immediately after three months studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. Needless to say, I am eternally grateful for the week that I had at home to re-acclimate myself to life in the US. Though I spent much of that time sleeping at strange hours and bemoaning the lack of good bread and cheese, I also used that time to prepare for my internship in Denver with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

To be honest, I had not researched much about the organization. I only knew that I would be working primarily on ballot measures, specifically NCSL’s ballot measures database which is updated every year. All this is to say, I had no idea what I would be walking into the first day in the office. Having been to Colorado Springs, but never Denver, I arrived two days early to acclimate myself and figure out what I was going to do for the next two months. Thankfully, being from Southern California allowed me some insight into (and some enjoyment of) the warm weather. I soon learned, through direct observation and experience, that frequent afternoon rain and thunderstorms would also become an intrinsic part of my time in Denver. Still, I was excited. On my first day of work, I woke up early, put on the outfit I had set out the night before and set off to the office.

Previously, I had imagined something akin to my last internship in Taipei, Taiwan, a smaller office crammed between an army recruitment post and a 7-11. About twenty people worked as full-time staff on the second floor, whereas I and the full-time, year-round interns made our home on the third floor. My mental construction of what my workspace and environment would be shattered as I approached my building. It was a very big building, three floors, some enormous amount of square footage, revolving doors, and a lobby, not to mention, a staff of over 100 people, not including the DC office. At that moment, I realized this would not be an internship where I sat around waiting to fetch coffee. This was a real job with real deadlines and real people relying on the work that I was doing.

Like I stated above, my job was (and is) to gather the ballot measures from all 50 states as they become qualified. Feel free to check out the 2016 ballot measures here. Along with keeping the measure database updated, I track and circulate news about ballot measures to various members of my department, compile talking points for my direct supervisor when she gets information requests or interviewed by the press, search for and record new legislation regarding the initiative and referendum process (only available in 24 states and particularly popular in the Western United States), and whatever else needs to be done on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. Overall, I am NCSL’s primary stop for ballot measure knowledge, a role I never in my life would have thought to fill. This upcoming week, I will be working on a presentation for my supervisor regarding the big trends in ballot measures this year, to be given at NCSL’s annual Legislative Summit. As Wendy, my supervisor, says, I’ll never be bored at work.

Outside of work, inspired by Colorado’s reputation for the great outdoors and the park that resides just outside my window, I have taken up running and general working out, which to anyone who knows me is an absolutely incredible and almost unbelievable notion. Though I have spent the majority of the last month indoors and studying for the LSAT, I hope to do some of Colorado’s more fun (read: easy) hikes and some water sports as well. Looking back on the last month shows me how much I have accomplished, but as I feel time race ever forward, I know Denver has so much more for me to see, eat, and do.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

A Quieter Side of Yosemite



Image: Not your typical valley view- a butterfly approaches a field of California Cornflowers in Mariposa Grove.

By Emilia Schrier
B.A., English, 2016
Archives and Records Management Intern at Yosemite National Park

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

I am not a morning person—9am class was always too early to handle. But there are some rare occasions when I don’t mind losing a few hours of sleep… case in point, last Tuesday. 4am and the pre-dawn darkness saw me jolting awake, wriggling into some hiking clothes, and stumbling out the door with pack and camera in hand. By 5am I was in government vehicle with the park videographer, literally racing the sunrise. Our goal: capture the Mariposa Grove in early morning light.

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is home to several hundred giant sequoia trees—the world’s largest single tree and largest living thing by volume. The grove, currently being restored to protect the trees, is closed to the public until Spring 2017. (To learn more about the restoration, visit https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/mariposagrove.htm) But Kristin (the videographer) had come to document the restoration, so we were waived through the gates.

Always a peaceful place even with the crowds of visitors, the empty grove seemed imbued with a different kind of life that morning, bordering on spiritual. The sun streamed in through the trees and we watched as the rising light slowly illuminated the meadow. We didn’t speak much, as the camera was rolling, so the only sounds were the playful calls of birds flitting around us and the constant hum of bees in the wildflower meadow. We spent the entire morning in this serene lull and when we finally left in time for a late lunch, I felt like I was returning from a different world.

This is not my typical day—I am an intern for the Yosemite Archives and not the videographer, after all. At the archive, the general description of my job is to catalogue, describe, organize, and conserve collections pertaining to park history. Archival holdings are mostly 2D documents, while historical objects go to the museum. These documents can be anything from handwritten letters to photographs to old maps. Because there is always work to be done in an archive, my day to day work is always varied. At any point in time, I’m working on at least 4 big projects, plus 3-4 side projects!

But it’s surprising how often my projects at the archive lead me to opportunities in other areas of the park. Researching the background of one collection led me to spend two days working in the Research library, and I’m scheduled to work for a week in the museum as well. After cataloguing maps of the park that showed changing forest boundaries, I attended a forum hosted by the US Forest Service to learn more about the role of wildfires in forest change. And I got the chance to accompany Kristin on her video assignment because I’ve been preparing video gear for an upcoming oral history project.

I thought this summer would pass slowly, living away from fast-paced Silicon Valley. Instead, five weeks of this internship have flown by in a hectic whirl of paper, projects, and the ever-present summer traffic. So I like to spend my days off on some shady trail up in the high country, or continuing my search for the perfect swim hole (must have: privacy; deep, calm water; sun and shade; granite slabs, dirt, or sand for easy access; and nice napping/reading stones). I find that I’m happiest in some quiet corner of this beautiful park.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

A Whale of a Time



Image: On the hunt for some concrete

By Jaclyn Marcatili
B.A., International Relations, 2016
Historic Preservation Intern at Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

My first week on the job was a great crash course in heritage documentation. I got to see three methods of documentation in action in the Citadel at Alcatraz and observe how they all worked on certain scales: laser scanning for an entire building, photogrammetry for an object, and photographing and recording smaller features that are 2D. My supervisor and I were working on this smallest scale, as we were documenting graffiti in the citadel from both the days when it was a military prison and more recent markings from the Indian Occupation, Meanwhile, I got to pick up some tidbits about laser scanning and photogrammetry from the folks at the Historic American Buildings Survey who had gotten a grant to do this rigorous documentation. Though I didn’t get to run the laser scanner, I did try my hand at photogrammetry which is essentially taking a bunch of photos of an object in a systematic way so that when they’re thrown into a software program you get a 3D model in return. I have yet to ask HABS for the data I created so that I can try my hand at post-processing.

My commute for that week consisted of taking the ferry to Alcatraz. The employee ferry which leaves Pier 33 at 8:20 is an entirely different experience from taking the ferry with tourists. Because all of the employees sit quietly inside the boat drinking their coffee, the deck is completely empty. I got this vantage point to myself every morning to unsuccessfully search for whales in the bay.

Now my commute to the Headlands is equally lovely. Some mornings are gloriously sunny, and some mornings are so foggy that I cannot visibly see that I am on the Golden Gate Bridge. After waiting at a 5-minute red light to drive through a one-way tunnel, I reach my office by the beach. While most of the cultural resources team (including historians, architects, and archivists) work at Fort Mason in San Francisco proper, the archeologists are housed in the building that was the former Enlisted Men’s Club at Fort Cronkhite. What used to be the dance hall now has rows of shelving with archeological artifacts stored within. What used to be the stage for USO entertainers is now the library. I share this drafty building, the largest of the fort, with only three other employees and some raccoons in the attic.

I usually spend at least half of my day in the field, though, as my main task now is to find and record anti-aircraft positions from WWII. It is hard to imagine, even as I wander through batteries and find fire control stations on various ridges, the state of military readiness that San Francisco used to be in. I feel such a profound sense of calm in the rolling hills of the Marin Headlands, listening to crashing waves and foghorns and buoys clanging in the distance. But the San Francisco Bay and harbor has been an incredibly strategic point for anyone who has held it, and it has certainly been fortified as such for centuries. I feel like this contradiction – natural beauty juxtaposed so heavily with a military history that includes a restored Nike missile launch site – is the great problem this park poses for the NPS. There are so many layers to this natural and cultural landscape that are not only difficult to retain but also difficult to convey to the average park-goer.

While the Bay has been fortified since the Spanish built a fort at the Presidio in 1776, the height of coastal defense was certainly during WWII. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the military was afraid that San Francisco would be next. To try to get a handle on the hasty fortifications made during this period, I’ve taken maps from a Harbor Defense manual for Forts Baker, Barry, and Cronkhite. After georeferencing and rectifying them in ArcMap, I have digitized their features that delineate sites for 40 MM anti-aircraft positions, 50-caliber anti-aircraft positions, search lights, batteries, radar, and more. For now, I am focusing on attempts to find the remains of these 40 MM anti-aircraft positions in the field. It is proving to be difficult. Not all 40 MM positions appear to be constructed in the same way, and sometimes I cannot find a single piece of cement on a ridge that should have supposedly had two positions. I feel like the more I learn, the less I know, but I am attempting to be comfortable with this ambiguity that professionals call archeology.

I really do relish that fact that I get to go clambering all over the Headlands for my job, though. The best memories from these outings has been getting to watch whales on three separate occasions! The most spectacular was when I spent about an hour at Battery Spencer watching twelve or so whales file under the Golden Gate Bridge and make their way toward the ocean. There was nothing ambiguous about that.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

For the Love of Books



Image: The examined life of Steve Wasserman

By Iain Espey
B.A., Philosophy, 2018
Sales and Marketing Intern at Heyday

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

Outside my office window teems the benign rabble of the People’s Republic of Berkeley: rush hour road rage on University Avenue, yuppies on bicycles (of whom, I confess, I am one), mothers speaking softly in Spanish or Chinese as they lead their children to school, street artists hawking spray paint portraits of our Lord and Savior (Bernie, that is), endless construction on Milvia Street, and the variously inebriated, hippified masses. A most unruly city, but one with a certain dirty aliveness that’s slowly grown on me.

I mention this for context. I could not say much about my summer without giving you a sense of the place where I have spent it. It’s equally impossible for me to get at what Heyday is like without first mentioning the place it’s called home for the last forty years.

Since mid June I’ve been working at a non-profit publisher called Heyday. Heyday makes books, specifically, books about California. Okay, pause. Let’s unpack that statement. Unless you’ve worked in publishing, when you’re at the Stanford bookstore picking up your paperback copy of Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality for spring quarter SLE, you probably have no idea what all goes into the making of that slim little paperback.

Behind every book Heyday puts out is an unseen web of interlocking tasks and responsibilities. On the front end, you have the editors and designers who take a manuscript – or even just an idea – and identify its potential, and cultivate it, grow and refine it until, like a child, it has a life of its own. Then come decisions you’d never even consider: What size should it be? What about the weight of the paper? How much does a waterproof cover cost? Should it be printed overseas or domestically? Then there’s the area where I’ve spent most of my time this summer: how do we get people to buy it? For my part, I am in charge of events planning (or as in charge as a twenty-year-old intern can be). I take, say, a history of sequoia trees or a guide to sustainable sea foraging, and pitch events with the authors to venues like museums, bookstores, and historical societies.

This is my primary, ongoing responsibility, but I take on other projects too. For the past week, I have been writing copy for the catalog of next spring’s releases. First, I skim each book to get a sense of it: what it’s about, how the author approaches the material, what sort of person might read it. When it’s time to really focus, I put in my earbuds and blast something brutal, hoping that my officemate is into Young Thug too, or, at very least, doesn’t hear my foot tapping. Then I produce a less-than-200-word paragraph in which I describe and “sell” the book. Sometimes I’m given specific points to hit on or quotes to include. What I like about writing copy is the combination of creativity and control that it requires. By the time I finish on a book, I have a tightly structured, information-dense piece of writing that will (hopefully) make whoever reads it say, “Wow, I do want to read the memoirs of a Barbary Coast prostitute!” and then shell out eighteen dollars for the book. Writing copy for the catalog is my favorite project I’ve undertaken this summer. It is, in the words of my freshman roommate and close compañero, “a job for a humanist.”

But we’ve skipped over a larger question: what constitutes a book about California? In some ways, an easy question to answer. Specialty nurseries in California? Why, yes. Political murals in the Mission District? Definitely. Maidu Indian myths? Without a doubt. What unifies the books Heyday publishes, however, is not just geography, but a keen sense of place. There are as many Californias as there are people who have called this state home, and probably many, many more. Illuminating the richness and distinctness of each of these Californian experiences is Heyday’s goal, one I admire and strive toward too.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I have spent much of the summer thinking about place. Now, as I cut through the fog at unbelievable speeds on my 100 percent downhill bike ride to work, I no longer grumble that it is 54 degrees in July, and this fact confirms to me that Berkeley and Heyday have become my place, if only for the summer. As I sweat through my 100 percent uphill bike ride home from work, People’s Park glows in the afternoon sunlight, and for a little while it stops looking like a campground or a battlefield. There is a strange beauty in this too, if you are interested in seeing it. You wouldn’t believe this place, or maybe you would. I still don’t.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

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