Sam Johnson ’18 conducts environmental research with wildlife through prestigious summer internship
Summer internships are like a sneak peek into the future for undergraduate students.
Sam Johnson ’18 spent last summer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan pursuing fieldwork with the University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center. Majoring in Environmental Science and Spanish, she was excited to start her research after returning from a year’s study in Ecuador.
Sam’s goal for the summer project was to examine the relationship between small mammal populations and the surrounding plant life, asking questions such as whether measures of animal or plant community richness, evenness or diversity are correlated.
She says that the best part of her internship was getting to tag and handle small mammals, especially the baby mice. During her internship, she also worked with shrews, voles, moles, chipmunks, and she studied plant life: trees, ferns, shrubs, herbaceous species, and grasses.
When not working on research projects on campus or in the field, Sam has been active in J-Term travel, visiting Cuba, Namibia, and Guatemala with Carthage groups. She has also worked as an assistant teacher-naturalist at a local nature preserve, and a Spanish, math, and science tutor to Carthage peers and local high-school students. She envisions herself pursuing a future in international environmental education and service, eventually leading to graduate school in a sub-field of environmental studies.
While her research objectives guided her daily research, Sam’s animal subjects made an especially sharp impression on her. “The most interesting thing I learned is that Pine Squirrels are very vicious and will bite through industrial gloves,” she says. “Also that deer on research reservations in the Upper Peninsula have no fear of humans and will walk right up to you.” She feels that she gained not only a chance to answer her research questions, but a real-life understanding of research.