Out West student blog

Going with the flow

The sunset view from Hudson Yards in New York City, where Sydney enjoys going on walks with her roommates. Image credit: Sydney Schmitter

By Sydney Lee Schmitter '23
Hometown: Carlsbad, California
Major: Earth Systems
Education and Interpretive Center Intern, Henry's Fork Foundation



I’m already more than halfway done with my internship with the Henry’s Fork Foundation (HFF), and I’ve been busy at work with the various projects I’m completing this summer. I am putting together two new exhibits for the Henry’s Fork Foundation, which include an interactive ArcGIS StoryMap that details HFF’s South Fork Initiative. The South Fork Initiative provides HFF the opportunity to influence broad-scale water management for the benefit of the Henry’s Fork and the South Fork, as the two watersheds are highly interconnected. Plus, maintaining a healthy South Fork fishery will help disperse fishing pressure and ensure great fishing opportunities for both rivers. The second exhibit is a custom groundwater model of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer showing how various activities impact groundwater and surface water levels. Along with my main project, I have worked on signage for fish tanks and other smaller exhibits in the Interpretive Center, co-authored educational grants, and planned a river cleanup for the end of July. As an intern on the communications side of the Henry’s Fork Foundation, I have also created a series of water glossary social media posts (found here and here) and manage intern blog posts and social media for HFF. In the next few weeks, I will analyze Interpretive Center user demographic data to identify how we can best target environmental messaging to visitors.

Although working over Zoom has admittedly been a bit lackluster in comparison to the gorgeous photos I’ve seen from fellow Henry’s Fork Foundation interns, I’ve held myself accountable by meeting regularly with my mentor, Outreach and Education Coordinator Kamberlee Allison. We meet individually twice a week to discuss ongoing projects and goals, and I see her in at least two other group Zoom meetings during the week. I was explicit in the goals I set out for myself in the start of my internship with the Henry’s Fork Foundation, which included growing my technical coding skills, becoming a highly strategic environmental communicator, and gaining a better sense of what a PhD in an interdisciplinary environmental field would look like for someone like me.

Picture of the virtual reality boat at HFF’s Interpretive Center, where the two new exhibits Sydney is working on will be displayed within the next few months! Image credit: Kamberlee Allison

My favorite part of my internship so far has been the weekly lecture series on Tuesdays hosted by the Henry’s Fork Foundation. Every Tuesday, a researcher presents their research on a variety of topics ranging from the history of fly fishing in Montana to the importance of freshwater resources on Yellowstone’s Rhyolite Plateau. My personal favorite lecture so far has been on socio-hydrology, from Dr. Murugesu Sivapalan from UIUC, where I learned about virtual water exchange and the unintended socio-political consequences of different water conservation strategies. As part of my internship, I have also enjoyed chatting with fellow interns and various stakeholders that interact with the Henry’s Fork.

Overall, I am gaining a much better understanding of what the collaborative management of a valuable natural resource looks like in practice. Whereas prior to this internship I had heard about the conservation of natural resources through lawsuits and strict environmental policy, the Henry’s Fork Foundation does a truly remarkable job of bridging stakeholder goals together to manage the Henry’s Fork for the benefit of farmers, anglers, and habitat health. My view on what environmentalism has benefited so much from my internship with the Henry’s Fork Foundation and I am so grateful for the community and mentorship I have received, even on Zoom.

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Recent Center News

A three-state survey conducted by the Bill Lane Center and other academic institutions explores citizens' attitudes and political affiliations in three key Western states. The findings indicate no dramatic differences among citizens of the same party across Arizona, California or Texas.
A lawsuit in California to hold big oil accountable; Southern California and Arizona explore desalination in the face of drought; growing urchins to save the kelp forests; wildfires cause a decrease in air quality across the United States; and other environmental news from around the West.
In many drought-stricken regions, water security is threatened by shifting climate and demographic conditions. In research funded by the Woods Institute for the Environment, Center Director Bruce Cain and colleagues will develop a new approach to drought management that accounts for long-term socio-environmental change.