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Mentoring Youth in Nature & Conquering My Fear of Bugs

By Michelle Mu, Tisch Active Citizen Summer Fellow

As a freshman in college, I was on a desperate hunt for a summer job that wouldn’t consist of solely administrative work, as almost all of my previous summer jobs have been. I wanted to do something different; I wanted a job that I would truly be proud of. An upperclassman told me about the Tisch Summer Fellows program, a program that provided internships for undergraduate and graduate students at Tufts University. It focuses on strengthening local communities, developing networking opportunities, and providing educational and rewarding experiences that would help develop certain career paths. When I looked at the description of Eagle Eye Institute on the Tisch Summer Fellows website, I was impressed by its important mission of connecting urban, underserved youth with the complex but beautiful power of nature. Coming from an urban, low-income, and nature-loving background myself, I immediately wanted to apply to this internship.

At a recent Tisch Summer Fellows meeting, my peers and I were each instructed to spend approximately three minutes talking about and presenting why we do what we do at our internships to the group, yet none of us were told beforehand that we would have to do so. Nonetheless, there were quite a few surprised faces (including mine), and in the few minutes we were given to mentally prepare ourselves and our answers, many of us were deep in thought or scrambling for the most interesting or touching stories to tell. This question took me aback for a moment, not because I didn’t know why I do what I do at Eagle Eye Institute, but rather quite the contrary; there were so many different reasons as to why my job means a lot to me, and consequently, why I enjoy it so much.

To start off, I spent the majority of my life in Boston, where the most exotic wildlife I encountered was the occasional raccoon that would ambush my trash can. Despite my lack of experience with diverse flora and fauna, I still enjoyed helping my parents weed our garden in the backyard, finding newts under old plant pots after rainy days, and bringing home the occasional garter snake that would cause my mom to shriek and thus sadly had to soon let go of. Moments such as these allowed me to ignore the distractions of my sometimes troubled neighborhood and other issues I faced growing up. Therefore, my experience with nature was always important to me because it freed me from the restraints and consequences of the concrete jungle that surrounded me.

Additionally, nowadays, technology has consumed much of daily life, especially in the lives of young people who grew up with, and are constantly being exposed to, new technological advances and devices. Increasingly more youth are spending more time indoors, severing relationships with the natural world that provides us with all of our resources and needs. I found Eagle Eye Institute’s mission especially important because we need to foster meaningful connections between these young people and nature. It is crucial that we encourage an obligation to protect and give back to nature since nature has provided so much for us. Especially with the rise of climate change and pollution that threatens an abundance of species all around the globe, we need to start harboring a generation of young people who truly appreciate the natural world around them and are willing to make change to conserve it. What makes this specific job important to me is that we’re empowering young people of different cultures, race, ages, and economic class and showing them they can help solve environmental issues and promote sustainability in not only their own lives, but in the lives of others as well.

During another part of the Tisch Summer Fellows meeting, we had to write down a few skills we’ve gained from our job that we could include on our resumes. In comparison to answering the initial question of why I do what I do, this task was more straightforward. After all, I was able to improve my WordPress skills, work on administrative responsibilities, create and develop lessons on topics such as gardening and plants, improve my teaching and supervising abilities, and more. I also learned significantly more about local ecosystems and agriculture, especially the relevant plants and animals. I couldn’t help thinking to myself, however, that all that I’ve gained from my internship this summer couldn’t be fully represented in a few formal bullet-point statements. Working with youth, most of whom come from a similar background or environment that I was raised in, is more than fulfilling. And in addition to working with and educating these exceptional young people, some of whom face struggles I could not even begin to imagine going through even at my age, I’ve had the privilege of mentoring them and having lots of fun with them on outdoor trips and activities. This job gave me more than a few technical skills; I’ve had such rewarding experiences that fail to be captured by a few sentences on a resume. Like the time a high school student told me she remembered how to identify milkweed because of me or witnessing the gradual increase in comfort and confidence in being outdoors with youth who were initially hesitant.

To say that I’m grateful for this experience at Eagle Eye Institute would be a complete understatement. This internship combined two of my greatest passions: mentoring younger people and spending time in nature. I also had the immense privilege of working with some of the most passionate and fun people I’ve ever met. And I can also proudly say that I’ve conquered my fear of bugs; I even think bumblebees are kind of cute now! But on a more serious note, these past weeks have been extremely rewarding, and I could not have asked for better people to work with or a better way to spend my summer.