The life of a virtual REU student

Zanti Rains

My project is on the erosion of the wetlands at Finley Point on Flathead Lake in Montana. It involves Kerr Dam, which is causing the majority of the erosion, and it involves a request by a community member to build a dock right through Finley Point. This summer, I am researching the issues going on at Finley Point all behind my computer.

Being a virtual undergraduate researcher consists of long hours of studying scientific papers and articles and taking organized notes. It also consists of Zoom and learning programs like StoryMaps and GIS Mapping. My mentor, Peter Gillard, is the GIS program manager with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. He has been a big help in getting started and finding resources. I’ve learned a ton about my project and programs to tell the story I’m learning, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing so. Although I’ve been enjoying my research, it has been a challenge taking on this project remotely and I’ve had a hard time finding my voice.

Recently, I realized my purpose and I feel back on track. This summer, I will act as a translator from a plethora of scientific research and history to the community. I understand now that in the field of science, community outreach is needed just as much as research itself. If no one knows that wetlands are important and they’re being degraded, how can we expect policymakers and community members to take action? To address this issue, the community needs an accessible, thorough, and inspiring story to learn about what is going on and how they can help. That is my purpose this summer: to tell the story of the environmentally and culturally important wetlands at Finley Point to inform and inspire the community.