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Out West student blog

The art of natural history in the Mogollon Highlands

Photo by Kiara Fufunan


Kiara Fufunan, '25
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Area of Study: Earth Systems

Intern, Natural History Institute


Kiara Fufunan explores the importance of accessibility and outreach through her work at the Natural History Institute

I spent the first five weeks of my internship forging a strong connection with the Mogollon Highlands ecoregion. When I was not in the office, I was in the field, exploring the many pine forests and lakes of Prescott, Arizona. The focus of my internship has been to engage the public with what the Natural History Institute (NHI) has to offer. As a nonprofit organization, the NHI provides accessible programs for the general public to learn more about natural history and the Mogollon Highlands. As I learned more about the Mogollon Highlands, I gained a better understanding of how to share its fascinating diversity with a broad audience. 

My work at NHI often intersected with the work of other nature-focused organizations nearby, and I was able to take part in an array of volunteer opportunities, from setting up bat detectors in the Prescott National Forest to helping my supervisors lead a hike under the full moon. One of my favorite volunteer opportunities was with Nature Niños, a free community program that helps young children connect with nature. All of my mentors had an intimate knowledge of the plants and animals that lived in the area, and seeing their passion and excitement for their work inspired me. Volunteering with these organizations reinforced my own interest in ecology, outreach, and natural history. 

The main project I completed in the first half of my internship was a display that would introduce visitors to NHI’s mission of integrating science, arts, and humanities in natural history. With guidance from my supervisors, I decided to center this new display around pollinators and the native flowers that they visit. The display highlights the NHI’s herbarium, which has over 9,000 plant specimens that can be found in the Mogollon Highlands. While preserved plants serve an important role in scientific research, they are also striking to look at— there is a certain art to arranging and preserving plant specimens. Curating this display helped me explore new subjects like taxonomy, and it also tested my growing knowledge of the Mogollon Highlands. The finished display serves as a visual representation of NHI’s mission, an intersection of different fields of study in natural history. 

For the last five weeks of my internship, I will be working remotely on a downloadable booklet that will introduce beginner naturalists to the Mogollon Highlands. While my previous project was more hands-on in nature, my second project will focus more on data analysis and communications. Now that I am two time zones away, my work will require me to become more flexible while also prioritizing accessibility in my project. Although my hometown Chicago is starkly different from the geography of the American West, I still feel a connection to the region through my research. Working with the Natural History Institute has helped me connect more meaningfully with the world, and I am grateful for the opportunity to explore the unique and remarkable Mogollon Highlands. 


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