Friday, November 10, 2017

Soil and Water Conservation in Shelbyville



This summer I was an intern as a soil conservationist trainee in Shelbyville, Illinois for the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) field office. During the internship, I received hands-on training with soil conservation. I worked with farmers to ensure that the soil in their fields and pastures remained wholesome by planting specific grasses or other crops to reduce soil erosion. I also worked with the farmers on appropriate ways to implement the best practices for field borders and planting of CRP (Conservation Reserve Program).  CRP is a voluntary land conservation program that pays farmers to retire environmentally sensitive cropland.

The NRCS staff I worked with at the Shelbyville office were very friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful when I had questions. During the internship, I met a ton of people who worked in the agency and made some friends along the way! What I enjoyed most about this summer internship was the hands-on work I did while working in the office and outside of the office. I was exposed to several practices that farmers and landowners implement on their properties. This was a great learning opportunity.

This internship experience helped shape my future. I gained better communication skills every day on the job between the farmers, or with my coworkers in the office. Being in a professional atmosphere this summer has given me an idea of what to expect in my future career. The skills I learn in the classroom at the University of Illinois enabled me to be prepared for my internship with the NRCS. The Agriculture Leadership program has helped shape me as a person as well as an educator.  



Saturday, November 4, 2017

Failure: Overcoming the F-Word

This summer I worked for the Illinois State Master Gardeners as the intern on a new partnership between Illinois Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-Ed) and Illinois State Master Gardeners. Ironically growing up in Southern Illinois, my local Extension office did not offer either of these Extension programs, so my summer consisted of learning a lot of information about two Extension programs. My internship included creating monthly surveys used to collect data from five Master Gardener pilot gardens who work with SNAP-Ed to provide local food pantries with fresh food and nutrition education. I was so excited to begin my internship, and I spent many days building on my knowledge of the survey program Qualtrics. I had previously used Qualtrics in my AgEd classes and felt confident I at least had a basic understanding of the surveying program.

Unfortunately, new programs can bring big challenges, especially for an intern who strives for perfection. After months of compiling data, calling people, and creating a 10-page report from data collected by the surveys I created, I found a mistake. I realized that the data I had been using was inaccurate by a reasonably large margin due to not fulling understanding how Qualtrics works. Upon discovering the mistake and trying to control my internal panic, I told my boss what had happened and apologized profusely. My boss though clearly disappointed, directed me in fixing the error and focused on correcting the report. Finding a mistake that ultimately changes weeks of work is a tough blow as a college student who wants to be a professional. I found myself saying the f-word, failure. Sadly, when you fail in the real world, you can’t make like an ostrich and stick your head in the sand. Instead, I learned through the situation how to handle failure and how leaders recover from mistakes.

In the following weeks, I learned that to fix a mistake it takes a lot of emailing, reading, and learning when using new software. Finally, the error was corrected, and I still had a job with Illinois Master Gardeners. From my mistake, I learned how authentic leadership handles a situation, with poise and humility. For some reason, I expected to go into my internship do good work, learn about Extension, and hopefully learn more professionalism tied to leadership. In reality, I learned all of these lessons and the massive lesson that perfection at work is unobtainable and as a leader, it is your come back that speaks of your character. The University of Illinois Extension’s Master Gardeners moto is, "Helping Others Learn to Grow.” I can honestly say that after working for Illinois Master Gardeners, I have learned and grown both as a student and as a working professional. As an adult I learned that we all eventually have to admit to saying the f-word.