Newswise — MOUNT VERNON, Iowa - Even though Kat Armstrong’s Cornell Fellowship ended when summer break came to a close, she says the internship opportunity is just the beginning of her amazing career adventure.

“More than ever, I am just thrilled for what the future may bring,” Armstrong wrote in her Fellows blog.

The environmental studies and Spanish double major worked for eight weeks as the Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies in the Coastal Ecology & Conservation Lab at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. You could find her collecting water samples from Port Royal Sound, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, as part of a research project exploring how development impacts coastal ecosystems. 

She studied the microscopic communities living within the water samples to understand more about water quality and primary production (the energy and reproduction capabilities of the tiny organisms). 

“I certainly tend to forget about how important phytoplankton are in sustaining a food chain and supporting an ecosystem,” Armstrong wrote in her blog. “I’ve never had the opportunity to work with organisms on this level, but I think it is really crucial to understand their function in order to do more work with marine ecosystems as a whole. I feel grateful that my biology classes at Cornell have given me a great foundation to be able to understand the big picture surrounding these tiny creatures.”

Armstrong was thrilled she was able to carry out her Cornell Fellowship during the pandemic, even though she originally planned to work with a different lab. The pandemic created a last-minute shift, but Armstrong’s Cornell professors and the Cornell Fellowship sponsor, 1958 Cornell graduate John Mark Dean, worked quickly to secure another opportunity. 

This Iowa City, Iowa, native says the biggest thing she will take away from her summer research opportunity is her love for working in nature, especially with marine ecosystems.

“For a long time, I was really unsure about where I wanted to end up in the future and what my career path would look like. While I’m still figuring some of that out, and likely will be for a long time, it gives me some reassurance to know that I want to end up working outside in nature,” Armstrong said. “There is also some comfort in the range of jobs that can help me get there, which I also learned this summer. I talked with people who are researchers, educators, naturalists, conservationists, and activists who are all doing work in nature and for the environment.”

Armstrong says looking back she was hesitant to apply for the Cornell Fellows program, which provides high-level internships and professional mentoring through placements across the U.S. and abroad, but she’s glad she did.

“Being able to navigate an internship relevant to my interests in a beautiful new place, funded by my school, with so much support from professors and staff really outweighs anything else,” Armstrong said. “And I learned that I am qualified to take on opportunities like this, because the whole purpose of the Fellows program and these internships is to learn and grow. You won’t know everything you need to know going into it, but that is precisely why you get so much out of it.”

While she’s now armed with new ideas for career paths and new skills for her future, she also built up a new confidence in herself.

“Any student in any internship has to face difficulties and probably overcome at least a little bit of imposter syndrome, but managing the stress of an internship in the middle of a global pandemic, an election year, racial turmoil, and everything else 2020 has to offer on my own in a new city halfway across the country? I think I can do anything now,” Armstrong said.

She says she’s grateful for every experience this Fellowship has created and especially thanks her sponsor, John Mark Dean ’58, for contributing to the Fellows program to make it possible. 

About Cornell College: 

Cornell College, a selective liberal arts college in Mount Vernon, Iowa, has a student population of around 1,000 students. Cornellians have been living, learning, and teaching on the block plan, One Course At A Time, for 40 years. This style of learning allows students to fully immerse themselves in their chosen topic of study, including taking field trips, diving into research, creating an art exhibit, or exploring issues in the local community. With students from nearly 50 states and 16 foreign countries, as well as renowned faculty, speakers, and entertainers, Cornell offers the world from its campus.


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