By: Beth Ann Luedeker

For ten weeks this summer, Chase Murphy, a junior majoring in ecological restoration, participated in a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension internship program in water resource protection and restoration. He recently discussed his experiences with faculty, staff and students via Zoom.

three people by creek with testing equipment
As part of the internship, Chase Murphy (kneeling) collected water samples and conducted tests on the Mill Creek near Bellville with Ed Rhodes and Gabriela Sosa of TWRI. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension photo by Ward Ling).

A main component of the internship, and a favorite part for Murphy, was sampling water quality in the Mill Creek Watershed near Bellville. Through a contract with Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI), he participated in two sampling runs, and had the opportunity to use the same equipment used by water quality professionals. He took field measurements including transparency, water temperature, conductivity, pH, and dissolved oxygen, to name a few, and helped collect water samples for testing at the analytical laboratory.

Murphy also helped measure water flow in deep and shallow portions of the creeks using a river surveyor. This “boogie board” uses a Doppler flow sensor coupled with GPS to obtain highly accurate flow data.

“The river surveyor is calibrated by waving it around in the air,” Murphy said with a smile. “When they first told me to do that, I thought they were just hazing the new guy.”

young man with small raft covered by electronic equipment
Chase Murphy with the river surveyor used to collect flow data from the Mill Creek. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension photo by Ward Ling)

The internship included much more than the fieldwork. Murphy also received professional trainings, including learning how to manage and update the Texas Watershed Stewards (TWS) and the Mill Creek Project websites. He helped record audio and video clips explaining the basics of a watershed, and posted the video on YouTube. He also served as a “second pair of eyes” to review and proof contracts, press releases, and other documents.

Each week, Murphy met with the specialists to discuss different aspects of watershed management and topics that aligned with his desire to explore environmental consulting as a career. This information could help him stand out among other graduates when he is ready to enter the job market.

“One of the biggest things I got out of this internship is the relationship,” Murphy said. “Everyone worked very hard to help me and I learned a lot about the steps to take after college.”

two men by creek with testing equipment
Intern Chase Murphy keeps an eye on the river surveyor as Ed Rhodes of TWRI records measurements sent by the device. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension photo by Ward Ling)

“Though there are many benefits to an internship such as this, one unique aspect that comes to mind is our genuine desire to provide applicable, real-world experience,” said Michael Kuitu, AgriLife Extension Program Specialist in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and one of the mentors for this internship. “We try our best to task an intern with the same, or similar, work we are doing so they may get applicable experience. Moreover, we try to ensure an environment in which they may ask questions pertinent to a career field they are interested in exploring.”

Murphy is the fourth student to go through the internship program, and while his experiences were similar to his predecessors, his internship was undeniably impacted by the ongoing pandemic.

“For most of the summer I was unable to be on campus, so a lot of the work had to be done from home,” Murphy said. “On the sampling trips, we all had to take separate vehicles.”

“Unfortunately Chase missed out on the conversations that happen in the office and on the way to sampling sites. There is no good substitute for those spontaneous interactions,” said Ward Ling, formerly a program specialist with Soil and Crop Sciences and now with Texas Water Resource Institute.

Chase also missed the opportunity to present to a live audience at a TWS program, but he did get to be part of the video.

“I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to experience the full capacity of the internship due to COVID, but I was able to make the most of the internship because everyone wants you to succeed,” Murphy said. “They answered countless questions and gave me a lot of advice.”

Murphy highly recommends this internship to other students and offers this admonition – “don’t be afraid to ask questions. Everyone is here to help.”