Measuring human impact through river's ebb, flow.

Kripa Harper ’16 calls her internship with the Nature Conservancy this summer challenging and eye-opening.

“You’re outside in the field from seven to ten hours a day, you’re walking miles, you’re canoeing, you’re bushwhacking,” she says. “You have to think on your feet, adapt to new situations. It’s definitely something you can’t learn in a classroom.”

Harper is doing fieldwork for the Nature Conservancy’s Northampton office in its Connecticut River Program, which includes scientists from the four states the river touches. She and an intern from Middlebury College locate and collect soil samples from the base of designated trees—mostly elms—in transects across the Connecticut River in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

“It fell in line with my interests in conservation and giving back to the community,” she says.

Harper, a native of Amherst, Massachusetts, is a history major. For her minor, she's completing the Five College Culture, Health, and Science Certificate, which she describes as a combination of anthropology, medicine, and public health. The Nature Conservancy internship is funded by MHC’s Miller Worley Center for the Environment.

She has always enjoyed being in the outdoors, but when it came to the internship, “I threw myself into a new experience,” she says. “It’s been extremely demanding and has taught me the value of hard work and perseverance, skills that I can apply in the future.”

Soil samples collected by the interns are analyzed in a University of Massachusetts laboratory to better understand the river’s flow and monitor floodplain forests around the river and its main tributaries in hopes of maintaining and restoring the floodplain ecosystem.

“We’re trying to get a better understanding of the Connecticut’s flow and flood pattern, and how human contact and dam infrastructure impact the river’s flow,” she explains.

Interns do data entry and other work on days that are too rainy to be in the field.

“I’ve had the opportunity to go to beautiful places and work with passionate people,” Harper says. “I’ve learned to trust my instincts and to think things through and to advocate for myself in a professional manner.”

—By Ronni Gordon