Students visit Michigan Tech in internship program

Garrett Neese
Daily Mining Gazette

Houghton – A Watersmeet High School student met with professors and college students at Michigan Technological University recently as part of an internship program aimed at promoting Native American interest in STEM fields.

“My science teacher actually brought it up in class, and I figured, ‘Why not?’” said Watersmeet 11th-grader Assiniis Chosa. “I really do like life science, so it didn’t hurt to come try.”

Because of the pandemic, Chosa had only gotten virtual presentations along with his classmates, according to The Daily Mining Gazette. Five presenters talked to them about careers in natural resources and engineering: Sarah Hoy, a research assistant professor at Tech’s College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science; Joan Chadde, director of the MTU Center for Science and Environmental Outreach; Rita Mills, tribal liaison for Hiawatha National Forest; and Watersmeet graduate and mechanical engineer Aurora White.

Assiniis Chosa, an 11th-grade student at Watersmeet High School in Watersmeet, Mich., right, looks at a moose jaw held by Michigan Technological University wildlife ecology and conservation senior Allie Johnson during a visit to campus in Houghton, Mich., on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.

“Last summer, they couldn’t come to campus, so this is the best we could do, giving them a virtual internship,” Chadde said.

The internship programs can give students a more in-depth knowledge and understanding of the research that goes on at Tech, and also promote interest in conservation, Hoy said.

“I think it’s very important to encourage people to care about the environment, and for people to know what we do,” she said.

The program was supported by a grant from the Michigan Space Grant Consortium, along with funding from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Forest Resources & Environmental Science and the Ecosystem Science Center.

The visit included meeting with Hoy as well as assistant professor Kristin Brzeski, who gave a tour of the building and discussed conservation genetics and mammalogy.

During lunch, graduate student Emily Shaw talked about her research with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community on pollutants in fish.

In what Chosa described as his favorite part, he learned about moose curation and the study of their teeth via samples of moose from Isle Royale National Park.

Studying the teeth of the wolves can tell how old they were when they died, and their diet, which can reveal important information about the demographics of the moose population and its health.

“It seems over the last 40 years, the moose population on Isle Royale have actually been getting smaller and smaller,” Hoy said. “And we try to link that to see how the changes in body size or the health of the moose population is related to what’s going on with the wolf population.”

Chosa has roots at Michigan Technological University and in natural resources. His grandfather, Thomas Chosa, graduated from Tech with a forestry degree in the 1970s, and went on to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where he started the national wild land fire management program for Native Americans. His aunt also works with wildlife at the KBIC, he said.

He is considering studying life sciences at Tech, although Finlandia’s nursing program is also a possibility, he said.

“I like working with animals and studying them, because I’ve always liked nature,” he said.

Students also will do virtual exercises, including analysis of data collected about moose, such as their GPS movements and their diets.

“I think it’s important not to just be a scientist hidden away in an office writing papers that nobody’s ever going to read,” Foy said. “I think it is really important to try and teach people about what we do and about wildlife and try and get them excited. And so hopefully Assiniis finds it a valuable experience as well.”

Teachers have been enthusiastic about how the program has impacted students, Chadde said. She hopes at least the presentations can continue beyond the year-long grant.

“In high school, you just don’t know what’s possible,” she said. “So we’re trying to show them all the possibilities.”