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College kid wins NASA internship

Hannah Smith was chosen for an internship funded by NASA, where she will study the health of waters around White Earth Reservation. SUBMITTED PHOTO

An Ogema woman attending the White Earth Tribal and Community College is taking on some of Earth’s most important issues as she works her way through a NASA-funded internship.

20-year-old Hannah Smith is coming up on her second year of the program, which she was selected for last year.

“I was shocked when I heard I got it,” said Smith, who was selected for the internship that is a cooperative agreement between NASA, Hakell University in Kansas and Kiksapa Consulting, an environmental science consulting company out of North Dakota.

Students like Smith from tribal colleges and universities from around the country are specifically targeted for the internship, which has the students choosing projects within science, technology, engineering and math.

Smith, who has always been good at math and science, has made it her mission to help protect the waterways of the White Earth Indian Reservation.

Her internship brought her to Kansas for a three week training last June, where she and a couple dozen other interns from throughout the country learned about climate change, data compilation techniques and a geospacial technology program called ArcMap – a high tech mapping system.

While most interns accepted into the program only get a one-summer stint, she’s been lucky enough to get an extended stay in the program, allowing her more time to complete a more comprehensive project.

“I feel spoiled rotten,” she laughed, saying it’s NASA’s agreement with the tribal college that’s allowing her this opportunity and connections with some of the field’s most brilliant minds.

She is now hoping her own mind and hard work can help in the quest to keep water health a top priority around White Earth and beyond.

Smith completed the first portion of her project last year when she collected water samples from eight different locations around the reservation — one from the Tamarac Wildlife Refuge, two from just off the reservation and the other five on it.

“I’m looking for different things in the water,” said Smith. “I measured the chemistry, pH balance, water temperature, appearance of the water, recreational ability….” she said, listing off a number of elements within the water she would study.

She then dug up that same type of information from studies done in the 1970s to compare her findings to.

“To see what kind of changes that are happening,” said Smith, who is also busy creating the foundation for a data base that can not only be used to store evolving information on the waters of White Earth, but also as a resource for a database the EPA is putting together on water quality throughout the country.

“Right now, I’m looking at how land-use impacts water quality and wild rice production on White Earth,” said Smith, who is currently concentrating a lot of her efforts on the Mahnomen area.

“Because that’s really heavy ag there, and so I’m looking at how pesticide runoff from the crops there could be affecting both the watershed and livestock,” said Smith. “I think it’s important in this day and age to look at what’s happening and how we’re using all the different technology and pesticides and what affects they’ll have on natural landscapes, local foods and native plants.”

Smith says she believes the internship program can prove invaluable to not just issues like water health, but to the future of other key issues throughout the country.

“I think it’s really great to get different people from different colleges thinking about the same issues,” said Smith, “ who get to meet with their peers and then get to bring all of that information back home.”

Smith is getting ready to graduate from the White Earth Tribal and Community College in May with an associate’s degree in environmental science.

In the fall, she heads to the University of Minnesota Duluth to continue her education in environmental science and sustainability.

Paula Quam

Paula Quam is the editor for Forum Communications Co. newspapers in Detroit Lakes, Perham and Wadena, all in Minnesota.

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