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The pull of brows into a slightly concerned and possibly sympathetic expression is all I remember from telling my family and friends about my DukeEngage placement. I always started by saying I would be at The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which prompted smiles of recognition, but as soon as I described my position (reading and organizing scientific literature to create a climate change reference database), I was faced with those aforementioned looks which seemed to express the opposite of envy. Because of this, I was a tad apprehensive to start my work at TNC. Of course, I was excited to be involved in one of the biggest and most effective conservation organizations in the world, but I was worried about the work I was expected to do. Would I be prepared enough to be helpful and successful? Would it be interesting and engaging work?

After 3 weeks, it turns out that I love what I am doing. Every day I get to comb through a wealth of environmental resources and determine which articles belong in the climate change literature database. Along the way, I read many of the abstracts and am able to learn about the impacts of climate change on each of the vastly different ecological regions of Oregon. So far, I’ve collected and organized around 300 references and am nowhere close to being done.

Though this may not sound extraordinarily enjoyable to everyone, it has so far proved to be an interesting and valuable experience for me. In all the jobs or internships I’ve had before, I’ve worked on short term projects that lasted up to a week at most. In contrast, this long term database project has been a new and welcome experience. It’s exciting to see the project growing and evolving into what my community partner envisioned and requested a DukeEngage student for. Of course, I have other assignments that I work on day to day (I also get to work with government relations), but I always have the database to come back to and continue improving.

One of my professional hopes for this summer was to try my hand at writing in a professional setting. Now that the climate change database is a bit larger, I am starting to work on an annotated bibliography that will feature the most important references to TNC and its initiatives in Oregon. In this bibliography, I will work on explanations of why each reference is important, which provides a chance to employ my writing skills. If all goes well, this bibliography will then be distributed to help further inform TNC scientists in Oregon on the impacts of climate change in the region.

On the surface, it may be difficult to see how my collection of references contributes to conservation in Oregon, but after some reflection, I think it is clear. The foundations of everything TNC does are built solidly with science. In working with the science team to create a database that will provide scientific information to other TNC scientists, I am helping fortify that science base that will then guide future conservation work. Though this may not be as direct an impact as people are used to hearing about from DukeEngage students, I feel grateful for the opportunity to work with TNC and see firsthand how science can be utilized to propel conservation efforts.