Blog In the News

Alumni Success: Anna’s Story

Meet Anna Siegle, an incredible alumna of George Mason University who graduated in the spring of 2023. With a degree concentration in Conservation, Anna has many valuable and exciting experiences under her belt as an early-career conservationist.

Prior to graduating, Anna attended the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC) in Front Royal, Virginia and participated in the Endangered Species Conservation (ESC) program. During her five-week research placement, she worked alongside GMU’s Dr. Daniel Hanley in the Hanley Color Lab investigating the floral color diversity in the vision of pollinators. Anna described her time at SMSC as an “incredible and unique opportunity,” having made many long-term connections with experts in the conservation field and participated in various experiential projects and activities. She also expressed how it was great to be in close community with other conservation-focused students and receive one-on-one attention from SMSC professors. At the Fairfax campus, Anna said her applied and lab courses were helpful in preparing her for a career in conservation, and she especially enjoyed the beekeeping course.

Anna working in the Hanley Color Lab

In the fall of 2023, Anna was hired as a field interpreter for the Meaningful Watershed Education Experience (MWEE) team. She led stations on land use, macroinvertebrate identification, water quality, and biodiversity, teaching seventh grade students about the many aspects of their watershed. She shared that this position taught her how to communicate scientific topics to a wider audience, and she valued the hands-on experience of teaching students in the outdoors.

Anna at the SMSC apiary

After her time as a field interpreter, Anna traded her fall jacket for a sunhat and traveled across the world to Africa. For seven weeks, she worked as an intern with Save the Elephants in Tsavo, Kenya. One of the main goals of Save the Elephants is to assist local farmers with installing deterrents for elephants. Through this internship, Anna was able to combine her lifelong love for elephants with her passions for endangered species conservation, beekeeping, human-wildlife conflict mitigation, and community outreach. She learned about and implemented different tools to keep elephants away from farms that commonly consist of maize and green gram crops. These deterrents line the perimeter of the farm, including tools such as rags soaked in chili and used engine oil, or loud metal paneling that alerts farmers so they can scare off the elephants. However, one of the main deterrent tools are African bees. Colonies constructed along the perimeter of a farm keep elephants from entering and trampling or eating crops, creating a unique and sustainable method for keeping farmers, crops, and elephants safe. As an intern, Anna frequently inspected hives for occupancy, engaged with farmers, maintained data reports, and even joined a team of experts for a day of tracking elephants using collars and radio telemetry. “It changed my life,” Anna said of her time in Kenya. “I would love to work for Save the Elephants again.”

Anna inspects an African bee hive at a farm in Kenya

So, what’s next for Anna? With her passion for both wildlife and people, she said she would like to work with a non-profit and focus on human-elephant interactions. Her future is certainly bright!


Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences

As the days grow shorter and colder, another successful season for George Mason’s field interpreters has wrapped up for the year. The Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences program, or MWEE, has employed over 350 mason students since its creation in 2010. Initially funded by the Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program, MWEEs play an important role in the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s mission for a more environmentally literate and compassionate public. Mason students play a huge part – not only as educators, but as friendly, energetic, and effective communicators who inspire youth to get engaged in nature. Since 2009, PEREC field Interpreters have engaged and inspired >150,000 middle school students!

This hands-on, outdoor position hires every spring and fall, and provides an array of crucial, unique experiences that can really bolster an environmental science resume. Positioned at either Lake Burke or Accotink parks, an average day for a MWEE interpreter means a part-time, fast paced shift working rain or shine on any day during the week.

Training day for Fall 2023.

The materials and plans for four stations are provided – and it’s up to the interpreter to bring those lessons to life, at times improvising content and thinking on their feet to match the unique needs of each 7th grader that experiences the program.

One of our interpreters, Amber Spuchesi, showing off a big leopard slug!

In “Land Use,” students learn how our use of the terrain has changed its physical features, and how that impacts the movement of storm water and consequent erosion.

The “Watershed Organisms” station, meanwhile, introduces students to biodiversity. An interpreter leading this station might start the day by flipping logs or looking for interesting leaves and mushrooms to give kids a peek at some of the plants and wildlife at the parks!

Kids get a chance to meet aquatic critters up close and personal at the “Macro-invertebrates” station.

Or, at “Water Quality,” put their chemistry skills to the test and collect data.

For many 7th graders, their time at MWEE might be their first exposure to a fully forested park – many students were shocked to see parasitic plants, giant slugs, little isopods, chatty woodpeckers, and loads of other unique flora and fauna!

MWEE interpreters don’t just work with kids, but with each other – each season, we have a cast of kind and hard-working people who value team spirit and help with cleaning and set-up, and provide feedback, support, and just friendly chatter! Interpreters are trained alongside the Fairfax Park Authority, which leads their own MWEE stations at other parks – providing a county-wide opportunity for local schools to get outdoors.

A huge thank you to our cast of Fall 2023 field interpreters, our awesome supervisor Matt, and our outreach coordinator Dr. Cindy Smith!

Interview with GMU Field Interpreter

Interview with George Mason senior (Class of 2018) Christina Suarez about her experience working with PEREC’s Field Interpreter program, which is directed by Dr. Cindy Smith.