Ebb & Flow: 2019 Education Assistant Reflection & Words for the Next Education Assistant

By Katie Hathaway

Hello all!

This summer has really been one for the books. As hard as it is to believe, my time with Missouri River Relief is coming to an end, so I'm writing one last blog post reflecting on my time as the Education Assistant.

On my first day of work this past spring, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect walking into the Missouri River Relief office. I had known of River Relief for some time, and been around the organization before- attending various fundraising events and briefly chatting at random tabling events- but I never leaned in enough to know just how amazing this organization actually is.

That first day, I remember feeling nervous, but very eager to jump into my role as the education assistant. At the time, I was just finishing up the last month of my senior year at Mizzou, getting ready to graduate, and gearing up for a summer on the river with Missouri River Relief- I had no idea that Mother Nature had different plans for the river.

A very beautiful, but very flooded Missouri River photographed during Missouri River Academy

My internship coincided with the 2019 flood, meaning throughout the summer, nearly every event and program planned had to be rescheduled for the fall. Miraculously, (or not so miraculously, because I was working with Kristen, Steve, Kevin, and Melanie) we still ran multiple successful programs, including a summer camp about the Missouri River, without actually ever getting on the river.

Every day the Boonville and Jefferson City flood gauge were checked and discussed, in hopes that the river had crested, and that the water level would drop before X, Y, and Z events. Things didn't necessarily go according to plan, and this summer involved a lot more days in the office than we all expected, but I had the chance to really immerse myself in so many projects, developing educational resources!

When the river finally went down enough in late July, the staff was kind enough to take the NGRREC intern, Carly, and I out on the river for a sunset cruise, and it was more than worth the wait! I can't thank them enough for giving us that experience.

River sunsets are hands-down the best sunsets.

We may have not have been able to get out on the river more than once, but I seriously can't imagine this internship being any better. I have so much love for Missouri River Relief. There’s not really a way to convey just how meaningful this experience has been, but I will try my best!

Being the Education Assistant has been transformative for me in a number of ways, and I learned a lot this summer, but here are some of the biggest take-aways:

I learned to let go and embrace being in the moment 

I am someone who will read and reread every lesson leading up to a program so I can nail every point perfectly. While that can be helpful to a certain degree, you have to be prepared to lose the script sometimes. Over the summer, I was able to get much more comfortable in doing so by really immersing myself in the lessons and doing my own learning about relevant topics on the side. There are so many resources at Missouri River Relief to help you learn and better prepare you to teach!

I saw first-hand what a community-based organization looks like

This organization really lends their time, energy, and resources to the community in so many ways outside of just scheduled events and programs. During the height of the flooding this summer, the staff were constantly out helping with flood relief wherever needed.

They've also built their own community, the Missouri River Relief Crew. Coming from all walks of life, every member of the crew is so authentically themselves, and so dedicated to helping carry out Missouri River Relief's mission of connecting people to the Missouri River. Any time we needed extra hands to get through a project, River Relief could send out an email asking for help, and undoubtedly, crew members would be there to help in whatever way they could. I feel so lucky to have been welcomed into this community. It really has been so special to be apart of. They may work on a local scale, but Missouri River Relief's impact goes beyond the city of Columbia.

My favorite crew member, Tallia, during our staff sunset cruise!

Over and over this summer, I learned how important it is to be able to adapt when doing place-based education

I learned it will probably rain the one day of the week you have planned to take kids out for a hike and teach them about the Missouri River, but you just bring a rainjacket and find dry spaces along the way to give lessons! 
Kristen has said Missouri River Relief is usually on "Plan E" because Plan A, B, C, and D didn't work out, and that may have especially been true this summer because of all the flooding, but that never lessened the amount of work, thought, or energy that went into every program. I was amazed to see how much effort went into developing back-up plans, and how well MRR programs were able to adapt to whatever Mother Nature threw at them.

To escape the rain, we found a pavilion to watercolor underneath during a day with Missouri Young Birders Club!

Running a non-profit is a lot of work

The 4 full-time staff – Kristen, Kevin, Steve, and Melanie- along with the bookkeeper Katy- work extremely hard. They are more dedicated to the work they do than I think it’s possible to express in this blog post, but each of them is truly inspiring. They give so much of themselves to their work, and I’m so grateful I’ve gotten the chance to work alongside some of the most knowledgeable stewards of the Missouri River this summer.

I realized just how much I love working with kids

During my first few weeks, River Relief’s afterschool program for 4th graders, Missouri River All Stars, was wrapping up. I had the opportunity to observe one of the last lessons, and I was blown away by how knowledgeable and engaged the kids were. At one point they were suggesting their own solutions for how to manage the endangered Pallid Sturgeon in the Missouri River! I was so in awe of the kids, and that feeling of amazement never changed throughout all the student programs I had the chance to be a part of.

Words will not be able to do Missouri River Academy justice. I loved being apart of this camp. The kids that attended were all so special and blew my mind in every single way. They were goofy and curious, and the 5 days of Academy were so meaningful to them. I loved watching each of them get absorbed in all the activities we did, try new things (like electrofishing!), and build friendships with each other. By the end of camp, all the kids were talking about how excited they were to come back next year, and I found myself starting to strategize ways I could disguise myself as a camper next summer so I don't miss out on the magic of Missouri River Academy.

I loved getting to know all 21 of these campers. I can't wait to see what their future holds!

Knowing you have a hand in helping shape the next generation is really indescribable. Implementing education programs is very tiring work, but it's next to impossible to not pour your heart into every program when you see the impact they have on kids.

Kristen is an unbelievable mentor 

She’s inspiring, hilarious in a way that makes you question how someone can just be that funny on the spot, VERY dedicated to her work, determined, and I hope she knows I’ll always look up to her. My growth as an environmental educator is very much because of her, and I will never be able to thank her enough for this opportunity.

To the Next Education Assistant- 
Welcome to one of the greatest organizations there is! Prepare for an experience unlike any other- you will laugh a lot, and make some of the best memories, but you will also work extremely hard during your time as the education assistant. Here are some things I learned along the way that might be helpful for you to know as you step into this role:

  • Throughout your internship, really take in the way presenters and staff give lessons and communicate information- note things you want to incorporate into your own teaching style. Half the time I would just think to myself, “Oh I liked that. I want to remember that for the future”, but it’s so much more beneficial to actually have ideas written down.
  • During education programs, it can be intimidating to follow Kristen after she gives a phenomenal lesson, but that’s okay- dive into it anyway, it's the only way to improve yourself!  
  • After every lesson you give, make note of what you want to improve on and what you want to continue with in the future. Ask for feedback from Kristen as well. 
  • You will meet so many people who will share their livelihoods as presenters, and while they’re really there to teach the students, lean in and pay attention to their presentations as well. There is SO MUCH to learn. When else are you going to have the opportunity to learn about migratory birds, electrofishing or nature journaling? 
  • This is maybe the most important piece of advice I will give- get every recipe you can from Kristen because she is an amazing cook. Thank me later for this.
  • When you’re not out helping run programs, you will be primarily at the office, and that can take some adjusting to if you haven’t had an office job before, like me. Something that was really helpful for me was to think back to the advice of the interns before myself and remember that the days of this internship are numbered. You’re only going to get this experience once- so go all in. Do everything you can to make the most of your time at Missouri River Relief.

Missouri River Relief was my first taste of “the real world” after graduating college, and wow, did I luck out. I'm not entirely sure where life will take me next, but Missouri River Relief undoubtedly helped me get there.

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