Out West student blog

It's Preskit! Local Environmental Communication in the Southwest

Melina out on an afternoon hike. (photo credit: Jordan Ellis).

By Melina Walling '20

Hometown: Wayne, Pennsylvania
Intern, Natural History Institute




Why did you want to do this internship?

I was hoping to get the chance to work somewhere this summer that featured a mix of humanities and environmental perspectives, and when I learned that the Natural History Institute (NHI) was committed to practicing natural history through art, science, and humanities, it seemed like a perfect fit. I also grew up in Las Vegas, so returning to Arizona and the Southwest region felt comfortable to me. Finally, the city of Prescott, where I’d get to experience a historical small town lifestyle for the first time while also having access to tons of cool hikes, looked like a promising space to grow and try something new.

Clockwise from top left: hat at a local boutique; Prescott at dusk, with the silhouette of Thumb Butte in the distance; rainbow after a summer monsoon; Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia) butterfly; Bumble Bee, AZ, a stop on the drive from Phoenix to Prescott; and a scene from one of the many local antique shops.

How does your role support the host organization's mission?

As an English major and a history minor with a photography practice, I am definitely approaching natural history from the humanities side. This has turned out to fit really well with NHI’s mission—not only do they already have lots of existing arts and communication programming that I can help with (an art gallery, public talks, press releases and publications, etc.), but having a non-scientific background has also been crucial to my job helping NHI communicate with an audience of mostly non-scientists. My role helps make NHI the most accessible and enticing to the public as possible, which feels like a great way to spark engagement with the biodiverse region around us.

How would you describe one of the projects you will be working on this summer?

The largest project I’ve been tasked with so far is to copyedit and produce the layout for a field guide of plants in the area. I’ve been working closely with Carl and Joan Tomoff, the authors of the manuscript for Woody Plants of the Mogollon Highlands, to understand their vision and help them turn it into reality. So far I’ve read their manuscript, proposed an easy-to-read format for their photos and text, and started mocking up pages. I’ve been learning InDesign, a software used for book and magazine design, and I’m hoping to finish laying out the whole book by the end of the summer! Besides that, I’ve helped catalog and organize some botanical specimens, created some promotional materials, and helped set up and staff events.

Clockwise from top left: Touching up some paint in the art gallery; the entrance to the building, with a banner from the March for Science with a poem by renowned poet W.S. Merwin; the remains of a gallery installation that we took down, in bubble wrap; and the nametag from my first day of work. (photo credits: Tom Fleischner and Melina Walling)

How does this project relate to your studies and/or career goals?

Working on this book has been illuminating in a number of ways. First, as an aspiring writer, it gives me a whole new perspective on the process of putting a book together. As a photographer and as someone with an interest in multimedia communication, it gives me the chance to think about graphics in an intensive way and to consider how audiences will interact with the materials they are provided. And as someone committed to the environment and with goals of pursuing communication about the natural world, it has given me a new lens on the depth of knowledge that scientists (in particular, these plant biologists) have at their fingertips, and a sense of the challenges and gratification of making that knowledge more available for the everyday reader.

Has anything surprised you about the work, the organization, or the environment?

One surprise was definitely the weather—we’re just starting monsoon season here, which means that many days it’s boiling hot in the morning and pouring thunderstorms in the afternoons! I expected it to be just as hot and dry as Phoenix or Vegas, but since we’re at elevation it’s a little bit cooler, and when there’s rain it’s more humid than you would think.

Also, this isn’t really a surprise because I learned about it early on, but I’ve very quickly picked up on the absolute necessity of pronouncing Prescott the way the locals do—it’s “Preskit,” like “biscuit,” or else you’re a tourist. The small town culture has been a bit of an adjustment, but nearly everyone I’ve met has been incredibly friendly and welcomed me to this new place.

Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) with spider and fly. (Photo credit: Melina Walling)
Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma (Tapaja) hernandesi) (photo credit: Melina Walling)

Read more at the Out West Student Blog »

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