Mariko Hermerding '23

Summer Programs Support Intern with Happy Dancing Turtle

How did you hear about your internship?

After a year of Zoom classes and sitting inside, I was eager to find an internship that focused particularly on nature and spending time in the great outdoors. Happy Dancing Turtle (HDT) is a non-profit focusing on growing good stewards of the planet, and getting children excited about nature. When I began my internship search, my mom suggested I look up HDT. As a child I went on a field trip to HDT to make paper, so I was familiar with the organization. They had recently posted a "Grazing Intern" position which I immediately applied for upon reading the description. Although I originally received an interview for the Grazing Intern position, it's not the internship I accepted.

How did you obtain the internship?

The executive director of HDT along with the Conservation Technician and Manager of Administration conducted my interview. We discussed grazing habits, my experience on farmland, my passion for the environment, etc. A week later I had a one on one interview with the executive director. I learned that I hadn't received the Grazing internship, but instead HDT wanted to create a new position based around my skills and hopes for the summer. Throughout the next couple weeks, we discussed possibilities and crafted a new position - the Summer Programs Support Intern.

Describe the responsibilities of your internship.

On a typical day I spent time gardening and harvesting produce, and either selling it or donating it to local community organizations. I learned about the importance of cultivating and supplying non-pesticidal crops. I also worked closely with the administrative and educational side of the organization. I explored grant funding, participating in conferences, and communicating with local authors as well as central MN lake associations. I aided our Program Coordinator and Program Specialist by translating classroom and program material to Spanish. This allows people around the Midwest access to our events that at one point may have been unavailable.

What were the highlights from your internship?

One of my favorite aspects from my internship was the unexpectedness of it. Every day at Happy Dancing Turtle brought a new adventure. One day I was planting garlic in the back gardens, and the next I was tending to baby chicks in their coop. I can confidently say that there was never a day I didn't want to go to campus. A second aspect of my internship I loved was the people. The staff members are dedicated, passionate people who cared about my success. They are knowledgeable and had an answer to every question I asked. I am lucky to have been a part of such a hardworking, caring, and inspiring team.

How did your internship connect (or not) to your coursework?

Throughout the summer I interacted with different types of flora and fauna. As I was pruning trees in our outdoor classroom, I used my skills from ENVR Earth Systems Science to identify the trees. As I was digging, I often times tried to identify the soil type. From my lessons in Intro to Environmental Studies I gained a greater awareness and appreciation for the environment and what it provides. I applied what I learned here to my projects at HDT. For example, I assisted in our annual Butterfly Walk and Nature Scavenger Hunt. In these programs we highlighted the importance of biodiversity in a way that makes sense to youth. I also worked closely with the Pine River Seed Library, and discussed the importance of seed saving, which my class examined at the beginning of the year.

How did your internship connect (or not) to your planned career?

Going into my internship I was unsure of my future career path. However, now I have a more clear idea of how I want to proceed post-graduation. My hopes are to either participate in Fulbright or a similar program after college. With my current non-profit experience, my hopes are to work with non-profit organization affiliated with either the environment or refugees. Thanks to my time at Happy Dancing Turtle, I understand how non-profits operate and with this experience I feel more confident going into the future.

What advice do you have for other students seeking internships?

Don't feel ashamed for applying to internships close to you. I come from a small town and ended up interning in a town even smaller. I think there is this idea that college students need to intern in the city and work with a large organization to succeed. However, my internship experience in Pine River was truly one of the best times of my life. I learned an extraordinary amount from talented individuals who I am lucky enough to call friends now. So while you are looking for an internship make sure to consider exploring places you wouldn't think of applying to.