My INHF Story: Melanie Louis
This is the first installment in the My INHF Story series, where INHF staff members and partners share what connects them most to the organization, our mission and Iowa’s land, water and wildlife.
The story of how I came to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation starts way back to my junior year of college when I was trying to find an internship for the summer. I was studying Biology at the time and had just dipped my toes into conservation through my work with a professor on his prairie research project. I was able to weigh the various prairie seeds and combine different species that would make up the prairie plots. It was fascinating to observe all the seeds and see how each had a different size and shape. I was curious to learn more about the prairies, so I was excited to learn about an internship with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation where I could do just that.
I didn't know exactly what to expect, but what I experienced and learned from that summer internship changed the way I looked at nature. My desire for a career in conservation flourished. Prior to graduation, I scrambled to find a job outside, doing what I loved. I landed a job in Iowa City working at a summer camp that taught kids aged 3-12 about nature by interacting and playing outdoors – something I could very much relate to. As the summer came to an end, I was unsure where my job would take me. I was introduced to one of the kids' dads who ran an independent restoration company in Iowa City and was invited to work on his crew. And although it was only a few hours a week, it was exactly what I was looking for. Not long after, I got connected with Carter Johnson at Indiangrass Hills in Iowa County to work at the prairie and help with restoration. Having had the opportunity to work at Indiangrass Hills as an INHF intern, I was more than happy to spend my days working on the prairie with their staff.
I learned so much from my time at Indiangrass Hills. More than just plant identification and restoration, but true passion and dedication for the work all of us did together. Through the long hours and hot days, there was never a day that I wasn't grateful for the opportunity to be a part of something so meaningful and significant. When I heard about the job opening at the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation as a Land Stewardship Assistant, I knew that was exactly what I had been waiting for and couldn't imagine working for a better organization.
It was hard to say goodbye to everyone at Indiangrass Hills after putting almost 9 months of sweat (and sometimes blood from the multiflora rose!) into the land there. Lucky for me, it was never goodbye; it was see you later, since we bring INHF land stewardship interns to Indiangrass Hills every summer to work on the land. I will never forget my experience at Indiangrass Hills as the pivotal place I grew deeper in love with prairies and the people that work to protect and preserve them every day. The patience, commitment, and appreciation for dark chocolate and good beer is still instilled in me today from those 9 wonderful months I spent there. It's an experience I value very greatly and the relationships I made there I know I will keep for a long time to come. I'm starting my new adventure at the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, and I can't wait to see where it leads me!
- Melanie Louis, Land Stewardship Assistant