MACOMB/MOLINE—When the recent pandemic handed Leathernecks a challenge, they worked together to make an opportunity for one graduate student who was left without an internship.
Western Illinois University recreation, park and tourism administration Master of Science candidate David Brodwyn, Jamaica, was supposed to spend his summer completing his degree by doing an internship at Clemson Youth Learning Institute in South Carolina, teaching fly fishing, paddling and climbing. When COVID-19 shut that opportunity down a few weeks into the training, Brodwyn was left without a way to complete his degree and WIU faculty and staff jumped in to help.
WIU RPTA Assistant Professor Jeremy Robinett and Horn Field Campus Program Director Mindy Pheiffer came up with the idea for Brodwyn to complete his internship at Horn Field Campus in Macomb, and to lodge in one of the site's cabins as he completed his work.
Brodwyn, whose professional area of interest is natural resource management, will finish his internship this week, but has spent time the past few weeks with numerous WIU faculty, emeriti faculty members and alumni who have similar research interests and professions.
"I drew on all of my natural resource contacts in the area and this community stepped up to assist in providing David with some west central Illinois experiences," said Pheiffer. "The goal was to not only give him hands on experience at Horn Field Campus, but to expose him to locations in the area such as Argyle Lake State Park, Spring Lake, Lakeview Nature Center, and the Alice Kibbe Biological Field Station in Warsaw. This outreach affirmed that there are many agencies in the area that care for and study to preserve our natural resources."
Sean Jenkins, professor of biological sciences, gave David a tour of the on-going research at the Alice L. Kibbe Life Science Research Station. There David saw how data was obtained on the invasive carp to help reduce its population in the Mississippi River.
WIU alumni Robin Hinchee and Bridget Napolitano Hinchee, of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, also provided local information on their work at Lake Argyle State Park. Robin also invited David along on a trip to visit the Jack Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery near the Illinois River. There he observed cold and warm water fish and hatchery processes.
Brodwyn received his bachelor's degree at the University of Energy and Natural Resources in Ghana, majoring in fisheries and aquaculture. He found WIU's RPTA program on a higher education website and, after several online meetings with WIU RPTA Professor Rob Porter, Brodwyn enrolled on WIU's Quad Cities campus in August 2019. His coursework included site planning, open space management, human dimension of resource management and environmental and cultural interpretation.
Brodwyn said he has also been impressed with how helpful WIU's faculty has been with his studies in the United States. In the Quad Cities, Porter helped Brodwyn in a variety of ways, including getting around the city because he didn't have transportation.
"One particular day in class the topic was whether animals, plants, water, land and air should be accorded rights under the Endangered Species Act, Constitution, etc. This got me thinking again, or I got them thinking, about what need means," Porter recalled. "I constantly find him a source of inspiration, even when he isn’t trying to be. He hopped off a plane in the Quad Cities while I was still in Florida with no place to live, no money and no food. He finally found his way to Curtis Williams, WIU-QC director of student services, who helped him find a place to live and Kellie Larrabee, WIU-QC Graduate Admissions counselor, took the time to help him with the bus routes and other helpful tips on life in the QC ... and the food pantry, and I may have helped out with other factors. He spent his first semester riding a bicycle from home to campus, to work at the elementary school on Avenue of the Cities, back to school and back home. Then it got cold, and he was freezing. I asked him about a winter jacket. He showed up with one the next week. Then it snowed. He bought a Pontiac Grand Am for $1,500, got his permit, and he learned how to drive. I realized that he was sacrificing for his education, trying to live on a small stipend provided by the YMCA, and I learned that every time I listened to him, I was amazed at his willpower, persistence and calmness in the face of less than beneficial circumstances."
Brodwyn said Porter helped him secure the original internship at Clemson.
"I have always had an interest in natural resources, even as a young boy," he said. "I lived in a rural area and would often go into the woods. There are a lot of issues with natural resources, and I want to help care for those that are being destroyed."
After graduation, Brodwyn hopes to return to Jamaica and work as a natural resource specialist.
At Horn Field, Brodwyn has been helping with trail maintenance, invasive species eradication and helping with the site's annual fall corn maze. One of his goals has been to become educated on native trees and plants during his stay at Horn.
Robinett said the pandemic has created so many challenges for students as they progress through their degree programs.
"While our accrediting body and partnering agencies have strived to provide our students quality experiential internships, the pandemic has sometimes made that impossible," he said. "The pandemic has also led to some students having to make drastic changes in their internships midstream as sites were forced to close. RPTA and WIU are fortunate to have Horn Field Campus as an experiential learning space for students to gain hands-on applied practice. Horn Field Campus, through Mindy Pheiffer's leadership and willingness to adapt, provided David an opportunity to finish his degree and gain experience that will greatly benefit him as he moves into the professional world."
For more information about WIU's graduate and undergraduate RPTA programs, visit wiu.edu/RPTA.