Name: Luke Goodman
Major: Animal Ecology | Environmental Studies
Hometown/State: Montezuma, IA
Company/Organization: University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Title: Undergraduate Research Assistant
Location: Lafayette, Louisiana
Describe your internship responsibilities:
As part of the National Science Foundation funded Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) program, I was paired with a faculty mentor to conduct independent research. My responsibilities consisted of creating a model of the Vermilion River in southern Louisiana that simulates how future river modifications and increased precipitation events will likely affect the system in terms of water quality and flooding. Our project has the potential to directly benefit the people, economies, and ecosystems that rely upon this river system.
What did you enjoy most about this internship?
It is difficult to pin-point a specific aspect that I enjoyed most, so I will narrow it down to two. The first is the purpose of my research. I have never worked on a project that is so directly impactful for both people and ecosystems. My experience was much different than any other research experience I have had because I spent every hour working on a computer as opposed to the past two summers where I was heavily entrenched in field work. I was fortunate to work directly with my faculty mentor rather than a graduate student, which allowed me to have complete independence with my project. Our research consisted of creating a model that essentially serves as a tool to put in the hands of decision makers. This tool would help predict how roughly 300,000 people and the great diversity of wildlife in and near the Vermilion River, Louisiana are likely to be affected by increased river modifications and increased precipitation and hurricane events caused by climate change.
The second aspect I enjoyed most was the connections and friendships I made with the other students. These REU programs are unique because they bring a diverse group of students together from across the country. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette had two REU programs over this summer: biology and engineering. I was in the Biology REU; however, my faculty mentor was a Civil Engineer and I worked exclusively in the engineering building. This allowed me to connect with students from both programs and gain new perspectives from different backgrounds.
How has this experience impacted your future career plans?
My REU experience was monumental in helping me decide what I want to pursue as a PhD student. Prior to this summer, I knew that I wanted to pursue Environmental Science and Policy, but my interests were still very broad and unrefined. Now, I know that my research interests lie specifically in water resource management because of the complexity and dynamic nature of water, but particularly riverine systems, and the problems that occur and will continue to worsen in the face of climate change.
What resources did you utilize to obtain this internship?
My biggest ally was the ISU Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. Program Director Thelma Harding and Assistant Director Dr. Ashley Garrin were monumental in helping me draft my application essays. McNair assisted me in finding an opportunity to conduct research in Dr. Tom Isenhart’s lab working closely with Dr. Emily Zimmerman. The research I did with them last school year is what sparked my interest in water quality within the Mississippi River watershed and the subsequent problems stemming from poor water quality. If it were not for my experience working with them, I genuinely think that the odds of me being accepted into my REU program would have been substantially less.
What advice would you offer to other students seeking similar internships?
Take advantage of the copious opportunities available to you at Iowa State University. Our university’s size and stature means if you are willing to step outside of your comfort zone, you can open up a whole new world where you can set yourself leaps and bounds ahead of others in terms of what you want to do in your post-undergraduate life. The magnitude of opportunities available here present a chance for you to discover and refine your academic, career, and even personal goals and interests.