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California Student Learns of Louisiana Issues during Summer Internship

Photo: Tatyana VillelaThis summer, Louisiana Sea Grant (LSG) hosted Tatyana Villela, a California State University-Monterey Bay undergraduate, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) José E. Serrano Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI) Undergraduate Scholarship Program. The program funds two-year internships for undergraduates studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and attending minority-serving institutions.

Brooke Carney, NOAA acting assistant director for Partnership and External Affairs, was Villela’s national co-mentor who connected her to LSG. “It was a pleasure to get to know Tatyana through this process, and I’m so glad we were able to connect her to a community-level project through Louisiana Sea Grant,” stated Carney.

Other co-mentors were Matthew Bethel, LSG associate executive director for research, and Emily Maung-Douglass, LSG public engagement specialist.

In Villela’s role at LSG, she joined an ongoing project that is helping determine how the United Houma Nation (UHN) can adapt to climate-related and other short- and long-term stressors while maintaining the integrity of its community and culture.

“UHN communities face chronic issues such as land loss and sea-level rise, and episodic events like repetitive flooding and hurricane impacts related to climate change. As a result, some tribe members decided to relocate away from the UHN communities and traditional lands on the coast. Ultimately, causing a strain on the community’s culture,” said Bethel.

Bethel taught Villela how to use story maps and geographic information systems (GIS) to chronicle the communities’ coastal origins and migration.

“Mapping can assist the tribe in its hurricane damage relief and recovery efforts, as well as communicate their needs to agencies and external organizations so that they can gain support and prioritize local restoration and protection projects,” explained Bethel.

“Getting out in the field and working with UHN is a one-of-a-kind experience. Not only am I learning about the problems, but I’m helping with the solution,” added Villela.

Maung-Douglass introduced Villela to outreach.

“We wanted to give Tatyana a broader understanding of the challenges these coastal communities face by teaching her technical skills, such as mapping, and having her experience living, thriving culture through insightful conversations and basic classroom interaction,” said Maung-Douglass.

“Doing outreach is not just teaching others – but also learning. There is a knowledge exchange that creates an unforgettable experience. Tatyana was open to this and helped lead hands-on activities and gained unique experiences and skills she can apply to her future endeavors,” said Maung-Douglass.

“For one outreach event, Emily and I worked with a classroom of kids from the Coushatta Tribe in which we talked about climate change and how that affects the community. I was thankful for that experience because it allowed me to share my knowledge and grow in return,” said Villela.

“I also got the chance to participate in an adult workshop hosted in Livingston Parish called ‘Plastics on Parades’. The workshop showed how plastic from the Mardi Gras parades gets into the environment and contribute to debris, causing more damage,” continued Villela.

“I joined this scholarship program because I knew it would help me better understand the relationship between climate change and different communities. Furthermore, the ability to travel, adapt and be a part of positive, impactful solutions for others is important to me,” said Villela.

Villela also participated in the Community Engagement Internship for Undergraduates (CEI), partaking in several professional development offerings during her time at LSG. CEI provides training and mentorship to the next generation of scientists, decision-makers and citizens from underrepresented and indigenous communities.