A Sense of Wonder: Celebrating Our First Cohort of Field Biology Interns

DHEC stream team with Wingate University interns at Thompson Creek

The great naturalist and author Rachel Carson wrote about the sense of wonder we are all gifted with as children, and her hope that we can carry it into adulthood and for our entire lives. That is exactly what we had in mind in creating the Carolina Wildlands Foundation Field Biology Internship Program – an opportunity for young adults to cultivate a sense of wonder about the natural world to which we belong, to study and understand it, and to chart a path in life as protectors, restorers, and stewards of this incredible inheritance.

What started off with a single intern, Jayci Scheff, in Summer 2021 in partnership with the Wingate University Biology Department in Wingate, NC, has grown into a full program this Spring. Our inaugural cohort – six motivated Biology students led by their professor, Dr. Shem Unger, under the guidance of Department Chair Dr. Erika Nyland. As the very first Field Biology Intern, Jayci paved the way for the Spring 2022 cohort who followed.

Dr. Shem Unger on-site with students.

Dr. Shem Unger on-site with students

Their mission:

  1. use their powers of observation to explore and experience the natural habitats of Southern 8ths Farm;
  2. document the native plants and wildlife they encounter there, and;
  3. create their own compelling story about why landowners across the Piedmont of North and South Carolina should care about protecting, restoring, and stewarding habitat for these species on their land.

The result – mission accomplished!

Students checking cover board.

Students checking cover board

Most weeks from late February through mid-April, the interns co-designed their excursions to explore streams, wetlands, ponds, grasslands, deciduous and pine woodlands. Each chose a specialty to focus on – spring ephemeral wildflowers, mammals, lichens and fungi, spiders, birds, turtles — and each developed an eye for discovering these species and their habitats.

On Earth Day, April 22, 2022, it was time for the interns to share their findings with a small gathering of conservationists and professors at the Southern 8ths Learning Center. The presentation began with intern, Wingate History major and Chesterfield High School graduate Beau Horne sharing a history of Southern 8ths, highlighting transitions in land use and ownership. Biology major Jayci Scheff then presented the findings of her Summer 2021 directed research internship studying ponds at Southern 8ths and, in case you didn’t know, even simple farm ponds are rich with natural diversity.

David Harper leads opening remarks.

David Harper leads opening remarks

Briana Bergamini from NC presented her discoveries of many species of spring ephemeral wildflowers, and her stunning nature-inspired art. Daniel White from GA shared his journey discovering local birds of prey by solving the mystery of a severed hawk wing found on the property. Jared Clontz of NC presented his own transformation of fears into fascination with spiders he encountered at Southern 8ths. Mantenen Toure, originally from Mozambique in southern Africa, offered her discovery of land and freshwater turtles at Southern 8ths as a natural progression from her love of sea turtles. Anderson Payne of NC presented his assessment of habitat health based on the presence or absence of certain lichens, and the surprising diversity of fungi to be found in our region.  Finally, Justin Todd from NC shared a glimpse of our fellow mammals and the habitats they use, from coyotes and bobcats to several bat species identified with an Echo Meter app on an I-pad.

Beau Horne
Beau Horne
Jayci Scheff
Jayci Scheff
Briana Bergamini
Briana Bergamini
Daniel White
Daniel White
Jared Clontz
Jared Clontz
Mantenen Toure
Mantenen Toure
Anderson Payne
Anderson Payne
Justin Todd
Justin Todd

As Wingate University’s Provost, Jeff Frederick, proudly summed up the interns’ efforts and discoveries, this is the beginning of something BIG…for students at Wingate and other local universities, for the team at Carolina Wildlands Foundation, for landowners in the Carolina  Piedmont, and for the plants and animals (Homo sapiens included) who call it home.

Wingate University Provost, Jeff Frederick, addresses the students.

Wingate University Provost, Jeff Frederick, addresses the students

With Wingate leading the way, we are looking forward to expanding the program with Francis Marion University, Winthrop University, and other local academic institutions. Our goal with the Carolina Wildlands Foundation Field Biology Intern Program is to help everyday students develop the skills, passion and commitment needed to change the world.

Rachel Carson – if you’re watching, we hope these students made your day as much as they made ours!

We are all mammals.