Out West student blog

Practically in Prescott

Zora sets up shop in New York City while working for the NHI in Prescott, AZ. (Photo credit: Selah Ilunga-Reed)

By Zora Ilunga-Reed '22
Hometown: New York, NY
Major: Philosophy and Literature
Intern, The Natural History Institute

Why did you want to do this internship? 

Climate change has been at the forefront of my mind for the past few years. I'd always wanted to do something, whether in my studies or a career, to further environmental protection and appreciation, but I was unsure where to start. As a humanities student, The Natural History Institute (NHI) stood out to me because its work is inherently interdisciplinary. It weaves together the voices of artists, scientists, and authors to provide programming and events that promote the value of natural history and to educate visitors about the Earth itself.

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

NHI's mission is to provide education and resources on natural history, drawn from a variety of interdisciplinary sources. In the past, the Institute has hosted in-person events, displayed art exhibits, and held lecture series to further this goal. Now, all of that programming has to move online. My role in this context is something like tech support meets social media coordinator. I've been helping to organize virtual events, build a long-term digital communication plan, and create content for the Institute's followers to access remotely.

Describe one project you will be working on this summer. 

In addition to working on the transition to virtual programming, one project I'm really excited about is an upcoming video series on plant galls. Charlie DeMarco, a friend of NHI, has created six videos in which he discusses the nature of plant galls, from their formation to their relationships with overall botanical systems. I've been editing these videos, creating social media promotions, and preparing to upload them to NHI's YouTube channel. The series will be a component of a new initiative at the Institute called Notes from the Field, for which we'll feature fieldwork and citizen science on all of the Institute's platforms. I think this kind of program helps to dismantle the blackboxing of scientific study and to open the door for more inquiry, exploration, and learning.

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

As a Philosophy major, I sometimes feel that my work has no place in a scientific or science-adjacent field. Working at NHI has dispelled this myth by introducing me to people who have one foot in humanities and one in the sciences. I've begun to witness firsthand the power of combining both schools of thought. For example, questions of narrative structure and those of scientific inquiry are equally valuable and critical in creating the plant galls video series. Through this project and others, I've learned that the marriage of humanities and sciences leads to more and deeper learning for both parties by creating a sharper lens through which we can see, in even more detail, the nuances of the world around us.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I'm one of those people who likes to go on long aimless walks. Long walk culture is parodied so often that I feel the need to reaffirm the inherent value of just leaving your room, putting on a mask, and seeing where your feet will take you (socially distanced, of course). I've also been catching up on my absurdly long reading-for-pleasure list (Zadie Smith, Joan Didion, and Virginia Woolf, recently).


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