Experiential internship takes student to the mountains

Marjorie S. Miller
January 21, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Caleb Meyer first arrived at Grand Teton National Park last spring, it was cloudy. But when the mountains came into view, he was taken aback by the scene. 

“I had to pull my car over and just take a minute to stare in awe. Places like the Tetons or the Grand Canyon take words away,” said Meyer, a 2018 graduate of Penn State. “That feeling of awe, like the places themselves, belong to all of us and bring us together as Americans and human beings. It's pretty wild to be a tiny part of something like that.”

And a part of it, he was, made possible his curriculum and the assistance of a Penn State alumna.

Meyer was the social science and geology and graphic information systems (GIS) intern at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming from May to September 2018 as part of his required coursework for the recreation, park and tourism management (RPTM) major in the College of Health and Human Development. Meyer worked with the park's only social scientist, Penn State alumna Jennifer Newton, along with Simeon Caskey, branch chief of physical sciences, for 14 weeks — two weeks past his required time because the experience was such a positive one. 

When he finally did leave, Meyer brought back more than what he came with by gaining valuable, real-world experience in public land management.

“The experience really solidified my choice to work in the public-land management field, whether that's in academia, a public-lands agency or in the non-profit sector,” he said.

Caleb-Meyer

Caleb Meyer, a senior Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management (RPTM) student, was the social science and geology and graphic information systems intern (GIS) at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming from May to September, as part of his required coursework for the RPTM major in the College of Health and Human Development. Meyer was responsible for a visitor use project at Huckleberry Hot Springs, a unique thermal area on the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway between Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. He mapped and took water quality information on the more than 100 thermal vents in the Huckleberry Hot Springs. Meyer utilized ArcCollector, a GIS data collection application to record water quality information on the thermal vents.

IMAGE: Caleb Meyer

Meyer was responsible for a visitor-use project at Huckleberry Hot Springs, a unique thermal area on the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway between Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

“The goal of the project was to gain an understanding of how visitors were interacting with that resource and if present management strategies were effective in providing recreation opportunities in line with the National Park Services' mission,” Meyer said. 

Meyer mapped and took water quality information on the more than 100 thermal vents present in the Huckleberry Hot Springs (HHS) area which expanded upon previous mappings in 2004 and 2011. Additionally, he mapped the user-created trails and recreation impacts along the Scenic Snake River in the park and assisted in glacier monitoring projects in the Teton Range. 

“I utilized ArcCollector, a GIS data collection application, to record water quality information on the thermal vents at HHS,” he said. “ArcCollector hadn't been extensively used in Grand Teton prior to my projects. An inventory of about 90 vents in the area had been taken in 2004 and again in 2011, but those inventories were incomplete due to time constraints of prior researchers,” he said.

"If we can get people outside in such a way that we're also protecting the resource, we can hopefully instill a real care for these places and contribute to protecting them for the enjoyment of future generations."

—Caleb Meyer, 2018 Penn State recreation, park and tourism management alumnus

Meyer then decided to redo the prior inventories, see what changes had occurred in the seven years since they were done, and to discover any new vents present.

The inventory ended up finding some significant changes in water in some vents — some vents had disappeared entirely, and about 15 additional vents were discovered. 

“This helped inform my visitor-use project at HHS as well in that it further confirmed the delicacy and unique value of the thermal features in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” Meyer said. 

Meyer said he wouldn’t have been able to do the work he did without Newton and Caskey. 

“They are about as great of supervisors and role models as an intern could possibly ask for,” he said. “I learned more about the research process, from survey development to field conduct to submitting reports on my projects. I learned about hydrology, glaciology, tourism and Intermountain ecology, and expanded my skills in GIS, technical writing and so much more. It was amazing to have such a diverse set of responsibilities.”

Newton said Meyer was a good match for his position, and had a positive attitude and brought a fresh perspective to the park. 

“Caleb got hands-on experience while receiving useful feedback from experts here at the park,” Newton said. “The skills he learned are ones he can take with him as he takes the next steps in his career.”

Internship opportunities like Meyers’ are valuable in that they give students the opportunity to see how the process works, and be a part of the process, of park management. 

Because of the internship at Grand Teton, Meyer had the opportunity to work in the field on projects in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Death Valley National Park, and continues to expand his skills and interests in public land management. 

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

IMAGE: Caleb Meyer

“Public lands belong to all of us and we can all find healing, peace and a spirit of adventure when we have the opportunity to explore them,” Meyer said. “This experience also provided me with the opportunity to be outside hiking the mountains most every day of the week, work alongside dedicated land managers, and see incredible biodiversity.”

“I've been incredibly privileged to have these opportunities, but I really believe it's a human right to have access to the outdoors. If we can get people outside in such a way that we're also protecting the resource, we can hopefully instill a real care for these places and contribute to protecting them for the enjoyment of future generations,” he said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated January 21, 2019