Diamond, Mo. - Thanks to the Student Conservation Association, the George Washington Carver National Monument, has had some extra hands this summer.
George Keeler and Sarah Blacksher, both seniors at Missouri Southern State University, have served a 12-week internship this summer, helping out the staff at the Monument and learning more about their fields of interest. And, if that's not enough, the students have also earned a little pocket change to keep them going.
According to Lana Henry, Chief Ranger at Carver, the Student Conservation Association program is a win-win opportunity for the Monument and for the students who can win internships.
"These students are doing a terrific job for the park and we are so grateful to have their help," Henry said. "We have worked with the SCA program for many years, providing on-the-ground work experience for students from across the nation. We were happy this year to recruit two interns and select individuals from the local area."
While the two interns share much in common, their educational and career goals are different. Blacksher, who is from Springfield, is studying history. At the Carver Monument, she has immersed herself into the history of Dr. Carver and into the history of the Carver Farm and the National Monument.
"This summer I have worked in interpretation and I've had a chance to lead some tours of the Monument," Blacksher explained. "I also work the front desk and I have gotten to teach some of the classes that are offered here for kids and adults."
While her college studies are in history, there is no specific focus on George Washington Carver. To prepare herself to lead tours and greet visitors to the Monument, Blacksher has spent many hours reading about Dr. Carver and learning everything she could in any way possible. This includes some training made possible by the National Park Service.
"I learned a lot just listening to the other rangers giving talks or leading tours," she said.
Teaching younger children has been her best experiences this summer. "My favorite kids are the little ones, maybe grades 1-3," she said.
Blacksher has also had a big project this summer working with one of the Monument's "traveling trunks."
She is trying to create a new traveling trunk on African-American history. The trunk at the Monument now weighs 250 pounds which makes it too heavy to ship around the country. Her big project is the get that weight down to 35 pounds and still make it interesting for groups who request it for programs.
Intern George Keeler is a biology major at Missouri Southern. He has spent most of his internship outdoors working on preserving the native plants and ridding the park of invasive plants. He sees himself as a protector of plants-a spokesman for them. And, in plants, he thinks you see the best of the Creator's works.
Keeler, who grew up in Pennsylvania, is truly an outdoorsman.
"I grew up being outdoors," he said. "I was the youngest of six and I was always outside trying to keep up with the bigger kids. I hunted and fished and camped all my life."
Since coming to the Carver Monument, Keeler has developed a kinship with Dr. Carver.
"As I learned more about him, I've started to see myself in Dr. Carver. He was a steward of the land and of the plants."
Keeler thinks his future may be in the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working in a national refuge. When he lived on the Oregon coast he was fascinated with plant life, especially the great ferns that live in the rainforest there. His dream is to go back there to spend his career.
As the father of a ten-year-old daughter, Keeler is raising up an "outdoor girl."
I think she could give a plant tour of the Carver Monument all by herself," he laughed.
Both Sarah and George are devoted to their work and believe they are now responsible for helping conserve and preserve the natural and historical resources of the United.