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From Northern Michigan to Costa Rica


Posted on Jul 1, 2015

Randy Webster

Randy Webster

Randy Webster

Randy is a student in the Freshwater Studies program at Northwestern Michigan College. He has been the recipient of several scholarships: Adopt-A-Student, the Global Opportunity Fund, the Science/Math Honors Merit Scholarship, and the Jensen-Lena C Scholarship.

Randy visits a waterfall near the Arenal volcano.

Randy visits a waterfall near the Arenal volcano.

Randy has many reasons to celebrate summer. One of them is his successful completion of the Freshwater Studies Internship with an international, interdisciplinary team of students and faculty from Northwestern Michigan College in the United States, and EARTH University in Costa Rica. An accomplished chef with 40 years of experience, Randy is broadening his professional outlook, exploring a new career in water. We are very pleased to feature his internship story.

Randy writes about his experiences:

Soil and water analysis lab at EARTH University

Soil and water analysis lab at EARTH University

Collecting soil samples at a banana plantation

Collecting soil samples at a banana plantation

There are many things that impacted me during my Freshwater Studies internship in Costa Rica. The learning experiences I was offered were multidisciplinary and well-rounded, most informative and inspiring.

The most interesting thing I did was collecting water, soil and nematode samples, but, in addition to taking the samples, I learned much from the work we did in the lab, while we analyzed the samples ourselves. Lab work was particularly interesting to me because we performed several tests that I have never done before like nematode counts, chemical oxygen demand, soil density and pH.

Lots of exercise walking down 115 steps to the valley!

Lots of exercise walking down 115 steps to the valley!

Far and foremost, I will remember the Costa Rican people, who strike me as very friendly. I appreciated being exposed to many cultures at EARTH University, especially after being cooped up here in Northern Michigan for nearly ten years!

I had the fortune of visiting Roots, the farm where I did my homestay. Roots is not a farm, per se, as it doesn’t really produce any agriculture, but it is an ideal place to learn about sustainable life.

The property sits on approximately 7 hectares and is sunk deep in a valley, 80 meters, with a river along the rear of the property and some fairly intense jungle between the house and the river. There were 115 steps leading down into the valley.

Randy with Roots owner Douglas Gomez and an NMC UAS student

Randy with Roots owner Douglas Gomez and an NMC UAS student

The owners, Douglas and María, raise tilapia, which they harvest twice a year. Douglas gives tours of his farm to school children, and others, promoting green living and existing as one with the land. He is also on a committee of ten people to preserve the river that runs behind his property.

Chef Randy cooks tilapia for his host family.

Chef Randy cooks tilapia for his host family.

The first day at Raíces we spent just touring the property and cleaning up some of the trails. That night I talked Maria into letting me cook the tilapia for the evening meal. I marinated it in garlic, chilies, fresh lemon and limes, and olive oil. Then I saute’d it with more chilies, garlic, coconut milk and finished it with hard butter. Turned out great!

Overall, this was an outstanding experience. I just wish we had been there longer so I could get immersed in Spanish and develop my language skills to the level I demand of myself. I did, however, learn how to say “Pura Vida” without an accent.

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Want a way to stand out from the crowd when it’s time to look for a job?

Consider a study abroad trip. Students who study abroad find a job twice as fast as those who don’t and earn $7,000 more, according to 2012 studies.

NMC Flight Instructor Abigail Smelzer as a student on a 2011 trip to the UK.

NMC Flight Instructor Abigail Smelzer as a student on a 2011 trip to the UK.

Moreover, in a global economy employers increasingly value study abroad experiences, but relatively few students take them, according to the Chicago Tribune. NMC Flight Instructor Abigail Smelzer is one who did and saw it pay off in her job hunt.

As an aviation student at NMC, she visited the United Kingdom in 2011 and South Africa in 2014. Steve Ursell, Head of International Aviation at NMC, said those trips gave Smeltzer an edge when the department was looking to employ flight instructors in August 2014.

“Her experience in both the UK and South Africa certainly assisted her in gaining a flight instructor position at NMC because we have a very active international program,” Ursell said.

“Because I went on the trip as a student, now I understand the whole point of what the international program is about,” Smelzer said.

Smelzer, a 2009 Bear Lake High School graduate, has been drawn to travel since she was a child and chose aviation as a way to further that passion.

“’I’ve always been wanting to go places,” she said. She took her first trip overseas at the age of 17, to visit an exchange sister in Germany.

Committing to a study abroad trip can feel like a leap of faith, especially for students who haven’t traveled much previously. But Smelzer says it’s worth it.

“Just do it, you will thank yourself later. Travel is the art of adventure. When you travel you gain a greater understanding for cultures and a better understanding of yourself as a person.  Travel will not only make your job future brighter but it also makes it more colorful. ”

NMC’s International Services office also has resources available. Visit online or stop by the office in the lower level of West Hall.

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Growing female scientists


Posted on Dec 11, 2014

How do you get girls interested in STEM fields?

Consider showing them some stems.

Real, live, green ones, that is, with leaves growing. Put the girls — young women, really — in charge, from planting the microgreens to tending them to monitoring them.  Charge them with running experiments and collecting data, like whether the greens grow better under fluorescent lights or LED lights, and whether plain water or fish tank water is more nourishing. Let them harvest, and judge which kind tastes best.

From left, Taylor West, Constanza Hazelwood and Karla Vega with greens grown in their vertical agriculture project.

From left, Taylor West, Constanza Hazelwood and Karla Vega with greens grown in the vertical agriculture structure shown behind them.

That’s what intern Karla Vega and student Taylor West did this semester in a lab on NMC’s Great Lakes campus. The pair forged a research partnership that not only bridged language and cultural barriers but helps lay the groundwork for sustainable, indoor agriculture that could eventually improve the diets of millions.

“To get girls engaged in science we need to let them make decisions, give them room to make mistakes and try things out on their own,” said NMC Water Studies Institute Education and Outreach Coordinator Constanza Hazelwood, who supervised Vega and  West’s research this semester.

Vega is a Bolivian student at EARTH University in Costa Rica, a leading institution in agricultural sciences and sustainable development. Hazelwood has cultivated connections at EARTH since 2009 and was looking to take the hydroponic vertical agriculture project she started a year ago to the next level. Enter Vega on a semester-long internship.

“Karla came with a lot of expertise in what we’re doing. She brought a lot of innovation to what we’re doing in the lab,” Hazelwood said.

The challenge of the vertical agriculture project bonded Vega, 20, who studies agronomy and natural resources management in Costa Rica, and West, 21, whose science interest was piqued in a high school agriscience program.

“People say, ‘why agriculture when you are from a city?’” said Vega, whose home city, Cochabamba, is home to almost 2 million people. “It was a challenge. This project can be used inside cities, where they don’t have space to grow crops.”

“That’s what women like, is a challenge,” said West.

The challenge will continue next semester, when West will visit Vega at EARTH, joining Hazelwood’s fifth study abroad trip to Costa Rica.

“The tables are going to be turned,” said West, who said her Spanish skills are negligible but expressed no concern about immersing herself in the language.

Hazelwood, too, has no doubts both students will continue to flourish. She notes that the pair made the greatest gains after the male student who originally supervised the vertical agriculture project left.

“They believe in themselves. They’re very self-confident,” she said. “It is about believing in them, at times it is getting out of their way, but always being available to support them.”

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The game changers under our noses

The game changers under our noses


Posted on Jun 27, 2014

Northwestern Michigan College alum John Militello, was selected as one of the speakers at this year’s TEDx Traverse City event.  Militello is the head of creative for Google’s agency like ZOO Team.  He leads a 14 person creative team of creative directors, creative technologists, designers, copy writers and video producers.  He is also an adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

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Startup Weekend Traverse City

Startup Weekend Traverse City


Posted on Jun 17, 2014

NMC’s Keith Kelly with an update on the successful Startup Weekend Traverse City held on June 13 at the NMC Parsons-Stulen Building.

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Ask NMC is a regular feature on the NMC Explore Blog set up for you to ask questions about NMC and for us to find the answers.

In this edition, we answer questions about what we do with items or equipment me no longer need, what the demographics of NMC students look like and how a prospective student can sign up for a campus tour.

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