Nature Works: Where are They Now?
It’s August in Forest Park and that means Forest Park Forever’s Nature Works program just ended!
Nature Works is an educational program that invites St. Louis-area high school students to grow their understanding of conservation and the environmental job field. Nature Works interns collaborate closely with environmental professionals in Forest Park to restore and maintain the Park through both classroom activities and real field experience.
Through the years, dozens of students have participated in the program and have developed the skills necessary to change the world by protecting their environment. Learn more about these young leaders-in-the-making below!
Angel Gaines, 2015 Participant
Why did you decide to participate in Nature Works? I was never an “outdoors” person so when I came across Nature Works at my school during a career fair I thought it'd be a cool idea to expand my horizon and learn about the nature that surrounds us.
How has your appreciation for conservation and the environment grown since joining the program? I definitely feel like I have become more aware of the environment and appreciate how conservative we should be while taking care of our parks especially since so many animals live there. Every little bit helps!
What advice would you give to new students looking to join the Nature Works program? Always be ready to try new things, be willing to learn and explore, make the most of the program because I've established good friendships with everyone I worked with in Nature Works. Lastly, have fun!
Elizabeth Schrader 2017 Participant
What are you doing now? I am currently on a summer internship in Mexico with Casas por Cristo, which is a Christian ministry that builds houses for low-income families in Central America. Once my internship is done, I will return to my second year of college at Mizzou to pursue a dual degree in Journalism and Spanish.
How has your appreciation for conservation and the environment grown since joining the program? Since Nature Works, I have rediscovered my passion for immersing myself in nature. That means hiking, camping, doing stream cleans, or even just sitting outside on a sunny day. I have also developed a deep admiration and respect for conservation workers, and I am on the lookout for other ways I can participate in conservation as I progress through college.
What advice would you give to new students looking to join the Nature Works Program? Be ready for a HOT and SWEATY summer, be ready for LOTS of poison ivy (prepare your calamine lotion), but most importantly, get excited for a summer full of learning, enjoying nature, making new friends and seeing your effort to sustain the environment come to fruition.
Drachen Koester, 2018 Participant
What are you doing now? I am an active 4-H member and the current president of my 4-H group. I’ve been participating in many different activities as a teen leader teaching youth about native bees, healthy living, food insecurity, and therapeutic horticulture. I graduated high school in May and plan on taking trips abroad to work at different farms across the world before going to college to study horticulture.
How has your appreciation for conservation and the environment grown since joining the program? My appreciation for conservation has grown immensely since my time at Nature Works. I have a better understanding of all the time and work put into conservation efforts, as well as the importance of those efforts and how they affect the larger ecosystem. I am much more mindful of my personal impact on the environment because of Nature Works.
What advice would you give to new students looking to join the Nature Works Program? My best advice for new students is to enjoy every moment of your time. No matter how hot, how hard, or how long the day is, always step back and take a minute to enjoy and live in that moment because it will be over before you know it. Take time to ask questions, meet new people, and soak up all the information you can. And never ever forget to always drink plenty of water!
Gabby Burk 2017 Participant
Why did you decide to participate in Nature Works? I first became interested in a career involving environmentalism after completing a program called Eco-Act through the Missouri Botanical Gardens in high school. I then found out about Nature Works and applied, and while going through the internship I realized that the restoration work we were doing was what I wanted to do as a career. As a result, I am now studying Environmental Biology and Missouri State University. This summer I am back working with Nature Works as the college intern, and the work may be exhausting but it’s also fun, interesting, and rewarding. A big source of motivation that I get for this work is the sense that I am making a difference both in the ecological health of Forest Park and in the daily lives of St. Louisans and park visitors.
How has your appreciation for conservation and the environment grown since joining the program? After completing Nature Works, I definitely am more aware and pay more attention to what is going on in nature. Before this internship, I enjoyed nature and being outside, but I didn’t really understand everything that goes into conservation work and what it means to keep nature healthy and thriving. Now rather than just seeing a patch of flowers and thinking they’re pretty, I can begin to see and understand all the work that has gone into those plants growing as well as why they are good and what they are doing for the surrounding ecosystem.
What advice would you give to new students looking to join the Nature Works program? Keep an open mind! Before Nature Works, I was planning on a major and career in journalism. Even if you don’t think that you want to make a career out of this work, be open to trying it. You may change your mind, or you may just find a new passion or appreciation for nature and restoration work.
Peter Stergios, 2017 Participant
What are you doing now? I just graduated from Ladue High School in May and am currently getting ready to attend DePaul University in Chicago this fall. I plan to study accounting and business while also playing on the school's Club Ultimate Frisbee team. This summer I have been working as a courtesy clerk at Dierbergs Market.
What was your favorite thing about the program? My favorite was working with a team of like-minded workers whom shared the same goal of not only reclaiming but improving the natural ecosystem of the Park. I specifically enjoyed putting on the waders and removing invasive plants from the waterways.
How has your appreciation for conservation and the environment grown since joining the program? I learned so much about how ecosystems work, how important they are for the diversity of life and how they are impacted by humans. I think a lot more about conservation and sustainability after this experience. I am much more self-conscious about limiting my carbon footprint, limiting the amount of products that I buy, and making smarter, more sustainable purchases. I also have felt like it is important for me to give back to nature as much as possible. I sometimes volunteer with local gardening communities to remove invasive honeysuckle from parks and nature reserves. Overall, I appreciate all nature much more after learning so much about ecology and environmental systems.
Max Yusen, 2017 Participant
What are you doing now? I attend the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities where I minor in Environmental Sciences, Policy & Management.
What was your favorite thing about the program? My favorite thing about the program was all the educational experiences: like going to Shaw Nature Reserve, learning about macro-invertebrates through stream sampling, learning about plant surveying and identification, restoration techniques, etc. Before Nature Works, I felt like I never got an opportunity to learn about things I was truly passionate about in school, such as ecology, zoology or botany. This program gave me an opportunity to engage directly and learn about my interests.
How has your appreciation for conservation and the environment grown since joining the program? Before nature works, I had always been passionate about the environment and conservation, but I think the program validated my interests as something I would want to do as a career. I would say in part, the program influenced me to major in Environmental Sciences, and I liked it enough to come back to Forest Park the next summer to work as a Nature Reserve Intern. Nature Works also solidified my love of working and being outside. This summer I'm working at the Tyson Research Center through WashU as an undergraduate fellow. I'm helping a professor with his long-term project of monitoring forest biodiversity where I get to be in the forest every day, and I absolutely love it!
Michael Flemon 2016 Participant
Why did you decide to participate in Nature Works? The reason I decided to join was simply my love for nature and the wildlife.
How has your appreciation for conservation and the environment grown since joining the program? I know more now than I ever did before. My appreciation has grown so much. I love nature and the environment and I will do anything to keep it clean.
What advice would you give to new students looking to join the Nature Works Program? My advice to new recruits would be to keep an open mind because there is a lot to learn!
Brogan Eyre, 2018 Participant
What are you doing now? I am a rising sophomore at Mizzou studying Plant Sciences and Environmental Science. I was offered the Nature Reserve Intern position this summer, so I have been spending another summer here in Forest Park. During the school year, I have an undergraduate research position in viticulture.
What was your favorite thing about the program? Nature Works is a phenomenal educational opportunity. My favorite parts of the program were the education days where we were exposed to different environmental careers. Through the education days, I found an interest in soil science and ecological research, both of which I am involved with at Mizzou.
What advice would you give to new students looking to join the Nature Works Program?
Take a chance and apply! The Nature Works program was pivotal to my passion for nature and where I am today as a young adult. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to learn and work for Forest Park Forever, then and now. To new students interested in joining: you won’t regret the knowledge that you’ll obtain and the friendships you’ll make.
Aviana Pingel, 2018 Participant
What are you doing now? I am currently living in Yunguilla, Ecuador (outside Quito) for the summer as a volunteer in the community. Every day is very different, but the focus of the work is mainly ecotourism and English education. After this summer, I will be finishing my last year at university, graduating with a degree in Environmental Science and Global Resource Systems.
Why did you decide to participate in Nature Works? I felt that being the Assistant Crew Leader for the Nature Works team would be an amazing learning opportunity for myself. I got experience leading a group of high school students in the field of the environment and conservation, in addition to learning heaps of information about local flora. It also gave me more insight to my personal and professional goals, including teaching, conservation, and sustainability.
What advice would you give to new students looking to join the Nature Works Program? I would tell anyone who is interested to apply! The work is tough at times, but the learning and bonding you do makes up for it. It is important to know your limits and always come prepared, but flexibility and positivity are key!
Riley Weber, 2018 Participant
Why did you decide to participate in Nature Works? I always wanted to work outside, and improving our Park was a great way to do it.
How has your appreciation for conservation and the environment grown since joining the program? My appreciation for the work that everyone does is tremendous. The amount of work and passion everyone has for restoration is incredible. However, I now have a special hatred for certain invasive plants that I will never be able to ignore.
What advice would you give to new students looking to join the Nature Works Program? Be prepared for the heat. You do not think that it will be that bad until you are wearing those pants. Also, you have to be open and engaged in the environment and with the people around you or you will miss all the fun. Joke around, sing songs and learn. No other experience you have will be as much fun!