CFANS undergraduate experience – fieldwork, internship, mentorship

August 3, 2023

CFANS sophomore Grace Finnerty worked with the Lindsay Pease, PhD, lab and field crew this spring through an internship at the Northwest Research and Outreach Center (NWROC) in Crookston. Here she shares learnings from her internship, her career aspirations, and her experience with the CFANS Mentor Program.

Water sample from Grace Finnerty's internship at the Northwest Research and Outreach Center.

What is your current academic path and what degree are you seeking?
I am seeking a degree in Plant Science. I am currently in the Plant Breeding track as I hope to apply to the integrated five-year BS/MS program for Applied Plant Science – Plant Breeding.

Grace Finnerty.
Grace Finnerty

What work did you participate in with Pease and team at the NWROC?
Dr. Pease’s lab focuses primarily on soil science work, a lot of the work having to do with nutrients in the soil. The lab also does work with water and climate. While I was at the NWROC, I learned how to collect soil samples using different probes, process soil samples with the soil grinder, take soil moisture readings, measure water infiltration and runoff in soil, and collect greenhouse gas samples. I enjoyed working with the crew and learning about the experiments going on. Asking questions gave me a better understanding of the significance of my work each day.

Was your experience what you expected it to be? 
There were certain aspects of the experience and work I was doing that were expected: I expected to be taking soil and greenhouse gas samples and I had heard that the crew was welcoming. Beyond this, I wasn’t quite sure what I would be doing each day until I arrived. I was impressed by how there was always someone there of whom I could ask questions, but I was also always given the chance to work independently to really learn by doing.

Greenhouse gas sampling setup materials.
Greenhouse gas sampling setup materials.

Have your studies at CFANS complemented what you learned? 
Absolutely! I am really glad that I took Basic Soil Science before coming to Crookston. This class gave me foundational knowledge about soil that came in handy as I was learning about the experiments and looking at the soils. I came in with knowledge of nutrient cycles, soil profiles, soil texture, and soil water that helped to enrich my experience in the field.

Water infiltration experiment set up, measuring water infiltration into soil via quantity of run off collected.
Water infiltration experiment set up, measuring water infiltration into soil via quantity of runoff collected.

What are your current career goals, and what led you to them?
I am interested in a variety of career paths from research to extension/consultation to policy. I am considering careers in the public sector with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development, or in the private sector. I would love a job where I could interact with farmers regularly and be involved in developing and implementing conservation practices. I became interested in plant science because of the opportunities to make an impact on global challenges to decrease hunger, waste, and degradation of the environment through agriculture. I also enjoy being outside and had positive experiences with science fair projects in high school that exposed me to agricultural production and research.

Dried soil sample.
Dried soil sample.

What’s a little known fact about you, and what are you most passionate about in your field? 
I am most passionate about conservation/sustainability practices in agriculture and reducing food waste. A little known fact about me is that my family and I worked to convert most of our front yard to a native plants garden for prairie restoration.

Can you tell us about your experience with your CFANS mentor last year, Heidi Reitmeier? (Reitmeier is a soils researcher in the CFANS Department of Soil, Water and Climate)
By participating in the mentorship program, I was able to learn about my mentor's profession and educational background. My mentor gave me advice about questions I had and helped me to focus on my goals for the year. I was also able to gain insight from the workshops offered by the program. The LinkedIn and Resume workshops were fantastic, and I was able to work on my resume with my mentor after the workshop.

I think that everyone who has the opportunity should participate in the mentorship program. There is a lot offered, and because a lot of gatherings and workshops are optional, you can get as much out of it as you want. I would definitely recommend participating in as much programming as possible, but I would tell people not to be worried about it being too big of a time commitment.

Heidi Reitmeier.
Heidi Reitmeier

We asked Heidi to reflect on the mentorship experience as well. 

What new opportunities have opened up as a result of your serving as a mentor?
Grace has learned a lot about herself and her career interests through me as her mentor. This spring 2023, she had a job shadow experience at my workplace, the Northwest Research and Outreach Center, in Crookston, Minnesota. There, she spent an enriching few weeks with Dr. Lindsay Pease's lab, cultivating her understanding of research and fieldwork. I think her career path will be more open now that she has gained real-world insights through the mentorship program. She knows more about the types of work and sub-fields of environmental science she can choose from. I look forward to hearing more about where she takes her career.

How have you grown professionally and personally in your role as a mentor?
I see the benefits of helping students like Grace think through what it is they really want to do. It's a win-win-win for them, for their future workplaces, and for myself. I see what my career truly offers the more I discuss what it's about. On a personal level, I feel fulfilled by encouraging them to reach their goals because I feel that I am giving something priceless, something that can't be repaid.

What do you enjoy most about being a mentor?
My favorite part of mentoring is that I get to meet the emerging professionals of the future. Lots of cool connections and backstories are just beginning in the CFANS Mentor Program! One day, we'll all look back and marvel at where our careers have taken us, and I get to play a unique, pivotal role in these stories.