Student Profile: Sydney Schmitter, San Diego, CA

Sydney Lee Schmitter

Interning with the Henry’s Fork Foundation

Stanford junior Sydney Schmitter talks about what it was like to be a remote intern with the Henry’s Fork Foundation.

By Alex Kekauoha


Stanford junior Sydney Schmitter '23 has always had a deep appreciation for nature. Having grown up in San Diego, California, she is an avid scuba diver, angler, and swimmer. She has also worked at an aquarium, on organic farms, and even conducted research on San Diego’s intertidal areas.

“My mom also used to be a marine biologist,” Schmitter said. “So I grew up learning a lot about that and having a lot of access to the ocean, which really nurtured my passion for the environment.”

She enrolled at Stanford in the fall of 2019 with an interest in broadening her understanding of marine and coastal systems. Since then, Schmitter – an Earth Systems major – has immersed herself in Stanford’s many opportunities to study the environment, including a popular internship with the Henry's Fork Foundation in Idaho, sponsored by the Bill Lane Center for the American West (BLC).

“It was an amazing community and everyone was super wonderful,” she said. “I would really recommend the internship to anyone interested in environmental issues.”


Henry’s Fork

Henry’s Fork is a large tributary river spanning roughly 127 miles in southeastern Idaho. Part of the larger Snake River, Henry’s Fork has unique fisheries, wildlife and natural beauty. The area and its natural resources are crucial to many stakeholders, including farmers, the Shoshone-Bannock people, visitors and environmentalists.

The Henry’s Fork Foundation (HFF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring the unique aesthetic, fisheries, and wildlife of Henry’s Fork. In partnership with the BLC, the organization hosts Stanford students for summer internships. Last summer, Schmitter interned with the Henry’s Fork Foundation as the Education and Interpretive Center Intern, where she worked on exhibits for the Henry’s Fork Country Interpretive Center, an interactive museum with fish and wildlife exhibits like a virtual reality fly fishing boat.

Sydney Schmitter

“The purpose of the Interpretive Center is to educate visitors about the work on the river, why it needs to be protected, and get people involved in those efforts,” she said.

From June through August, Schmitter worked on numerous projects for the Interpretive Center, including creating exhibits and signage for displays, like an interactive ArcGIS Story Map detailing HFF’s new South Fork Initiative and fish identification poster. She also commissioned a groundwater model of the Henry’s Fork aquifer, created water glossary social media posts that explain terms related to groundwater, and managed the HFF intern blog.

At Stanford, Schmitter is developing her data analysis skills, which she found useful while conducting a visitor demographic analysis for the HFF Education and Interpretive Center. The project examined numerous data points, including visitors’ ages, places of origin and amount of time spent in the Interpretive Center –– information used to understand the Interpretive Center’s audience and how to better serve them.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Schmitter worked remotely from her home in San Diego and in New York. Although the rest of her colleagues were in Idaho, she said they made a point to help her make the most of the opportunity.

“I kind of missed out on being there and having that connection to the beauty of what I was working on,” she said. “But I also felt really connected and they worked hard to make me feel like part of the team.”


Stanford activities

Schmitter said that the HFF internship was relevant to her other environmental-related activities at Stanford. She has previously served as a Zero Waste intern for Stanford’s Office of Sustainability and as a research assistant with Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. She is also involved with Students for a Sustainable Stanford, for which she has planned several events, including the ninth annual Schneider Lecture. With the Stanford SEEDS program, Schmitter also collaborates with high school students in Redwood City, teaching them justice-oriented environmental education lessons, and taking them on field trips to Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve and the Stanford Farm.

Although her HFF internship focused on education and outreach, Schmitter also has a strong interest in science. She said that working with the HFF allowed her to connect with the Foundation’s scientists and attend their Weekly Summer Seminar Lectures.

“At some point, I’d like to pursue a PhD program in an interdisciplinary field that combines the social sciences and environmental sciences, which is exactly what the HFF does, and they do a remarkable job,” she said. “So being able to interact with their scientists was invaluable.”

For more information about BLC-sponsored internship opportunities, including with the Henry’s Fork Foundation, visit the BLC Internships webpage.