CMC students and alumna participate in prestigious internship program
For two sustainability studies students and one alumna from Colorado Mountain College, Scripps Institution of Oceanography has provided valuable opportunities to research critical environmental and water systems right here in Colorado.
Each summer, selected college students are linked with leading scientists at Scripps through a prestigious and highly competitive internship program at the institution's Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, or CW3E. Students gain research training experience as they study western weather, water and climate extremes.
In 2020, CMC Steamboat Springs alumna Madison Muxworthy, who graduated in 2019 with a bachelor's degree in sustainability studies, was the first from Colorado Mountain College accepted into this unique research internship program. The following year, Muxworthy served as a co-mentor and field assistant for CMC Steamboat Springs student Rachel Santi, while sustainability studies student Rachael Jones from CMC Spring Valley completed her research in the Roaring Fork Valley.
A pathway to science
Dr. Nathan Stewart, associate professor of sustainability studies at CMC Steamboat Springs, spearheaded Colorado Mountain College's participation in Scripps' internship program in 2016 after numerous discussions with CW3E's director, Dr. F. Martin Ralph.
"CMC's bachelors students are attending an open access, rural Western Slope college that is underrepresented in advanced STEM research," said Stewart. "We saw an opportunity to create a career springboard for CMC students at a leading research institution such as Scripps."
Even though Scripps, which is headquartered in La Jolla, California, and a part of the University of California San Diego, is located far from the Western Slope of Colorado, CMC students had plenty of relevant research to conduct exclusively in the state. None of them ever visited Scripps, and instead focused their research specifically in the Yampa and Roaring Fork valleys.
Madison Muxworthy found her way to CMC's Steamboat Springs campus in 2015 from upstate New York when she was recruited to join CMC's ski team. She competed in Division 1 collegiate racing, and along the way, her passion for environmental science developed.
"I took advantage of the college's sustainability work study program and interned at the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council," she said of her current employer, where she is now the soil moisture, water and snow program manager.
After earning her degree and while working with YVSC, she interned with CW3E, joining 10 other interns who were chosen from colleges and universities throughout the western U.S. Her research focused on measuring streamflow variability in the Upper Yampa River Basin.
"I gained a better understanding of how water managers predict water supplies, and how we can make better decisions through increased data," she said of her research. "It's led me to continue to develop soil and climate monitoring that's relevant to our area."
Rachel Santi is a current CMC Steamboat Springs sustainability studies student and a U.S. Forest Service intern through the Rocky Mountain Land Management Internship program at CMC.
During her CW3E internship in 2021 she was mentored not only by Dr. Anna Wilson from CW3E and Dr. Michelle Stewart, executive director of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, but Muxworthy and Nathan Stewart as well. Santi focused her internship on conducting original research on soil moisture in the Yampa River Basin, the Flat Tops and Buffalo Pass.
For Rachael Jones, a CMC Spring Valley at Glenwood Spring student and a CW3E intern, her time teaching English in China while living in a city of 20 million people inspired her to focus on a bachelor's degree in sustainability studies when she returned to the States, and to apply to Scripps' internship program.
"Before, I took the outdoors for granted," she said. "I gained a huge appreciation towards protecting the environment."
With guidance from Elise Osenga, the community science manager at the Aspen Global Change Institute, Jones created original inter-basin comparisons between the Roaring Fork River and Yampa River basins, with a focus on warming and drying.
Women in science
According to the 2020 U.S. census, in 1970, only 8% of American women were science, technology, engineering and math workers. Today, the percentages have increased, though just 27% of women in the U.S. are working in STEM fields.
These women studying, researching and working in science, are proving to be valuable contributors of the scientific community. And their work continues. From Dec. 13-17, Jones, Santi, Muxworthy and their mentors co-presented their original research at the Fall 2021 Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, a premier annual scientific conference of the earth and space science community. Their research poster, titled "Enriching Internships through Cross-Watershed Collaboration" was accepted into a special session about cultivating collaboration of STEM education, research and outreach teams, and is on display through January 2022 in New Orleans.
"Madison, Rachel and Rachael represent the upwards trajectory of women in science," Stewart said. "Our affiliation with Scripps Institution, the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and the Aspen Global Change Institute is providing our students with the skills necessary for them to pursue meaningful careers in science."