America Avila

America Avila

Monday, 22 July 2019 22:52

Dr. Ashley Reis

(Dr. Ashley Reis pictured on the left in blue. Me pictured on the right in a giant hoodie!)

Going to college was something I never, ever imagined. While I was in high school, although I was involved in various extracurricular activities, I hated sitting in my English class and listening to my teacher talk about Shakespeare or being in my Algebra class, trying to understand all the different formulas. So, the day I graduated high school, the days I received acceptance letters from different colleges, the day I moved into my dorm, and the day I arrived late to my first class of the semester were all very surreal days for me.

The class that I was late to was Intro to Environmental Studies. Throughout the semester Dr. Reis talked about John Muir, Rachel Carson, environmental justice, the difference between conservation and preservation, and the tragedy of the commons. I liked sitting in her class and learning about all these different people who were and still are stewards of the environment and I realized that that was what I wanted to be. Halfway through the semester, I changed my major from undecided to Environmental Studies and I felt like pieces of my life started to fall into place.

Dr. Reis was one of the most influential figures for me in realizing that I wanted to work in the Environmental Studies field. She didn’t just teach us about historical figures like Gifford Pinchot and Aldo Leopold, she also introduced us to grassroots movements and activists like Xiuhtezcatl Martinez. She spoke about indigenous activism and environmental racism and always acknowledged whose land we were on.

During my second semester I took another class with Dr. Reis called #EquityOutdoors where I learned about all the people putting in the work to make the outdoors an inclusive, equitable space and not just a white, heterosexual community. In her syllabus, she included different Instagram handles of people and groups who represent LGTBQ, POC, women, people with all body sizes, and people with different abilities in the outdoors. I found out about this internship through one of these accounts, @latinooutdoors.

I am extremely grateful that I was able to have Dr. Reis as my professor during my first year of college. Her enthusiasm and support for her students is something you don’t get to experience often. She has changed her teaching style to accommodate students, introduced us to different ideas that we will carry on throughout life, and I know all her students greatly appreciate when she brings her dog, Banjo to class. Her door has always been open to every student whether it was to talk about personal issues, the Game of Thrones finale or Jonathon Van Ness. Whichever students get to sit in her class next will be extremely lucky.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019 17:28

Dog Vomit is Cool?

Mile-a-minute vine or persicaria perfoliate is an invasive plant native to Asia that has spread on Grape Island, an island of Boston Harbor Islands. The leaves have a distinctive triangular shape and can be confused with wild morning glory, but mile-a-minute has ocrea surrounding the stem. Mile-a-minute is usually introduced by birds who carry the plant’s fruit and disperse them over the island. This vine impacts the island’s vegetation because it grows rapidly and outcompetes native plants.

I got to spend a day at Grape Island working with Saugus’ biotech, Bill and other NPS folk, as well as the LHIP intern from Minute Man! We spent all day pulling out loads of mile-a-minute and it was surprisingly satisfying. While I was sitting in a thicket of mile-a-minute, I didn’t realize there was poison ivy right next to me, so I also sort of learned how to identify poison ivy. Luckily, I was wearing protective attire and gloves.

Although my internship focuses on education, I have taken some time to look at and learn about the vegetation in Saugus. During a preschool program, I noticed a smoke tee or Cotinus and was so amazed at how fluffy it looked. There is also a nature trail in Saugus and if you walk through it, there are so many different species of plants, trees, animals, insects and fungi. I learned what dog vomit slime mold or fuligo septica was when I saw yellow mold growing on the trail. Although it’s very bright, it’s not toxic! It was a rainy day and the nature trail is right next to a wetland and dog vomit usually grows in moist, shady places so its location made sense. Another fun fact about this yellow mold is that its ecological role in nature is feeding on dead materials to recycle the nutrients for other species to utilize. Who knew dog vomit was so cool?

Identifying and learning about different plants and fungi species has been as wicked exciting as it sounds.

Wednesday, 05 June 2019 01:53

Preschoolers in the Park

Hello all, it’s my third week into my internship and my brain is packed with information on Salem. Starting in July, the project I am assigned to, Preschoolers in the Park will begin. This is a bilingual (Spanish-English) program offered to the communities of Salem and Saugus for children and their families to participate in active experiences connecting to the historic and natural resources of Salem Maritime and Saugus Ironworks National Historic Sites. Other components of this program include science, math, literacy and art to engage children in academics. 

In the meantime, while Preschoolers in the Park hasn’t started, I’ve begun reading programs from last year and books about the history of Salem and Saugus. I’ve also started developing my own programs which differ from last year’s program by having more of a science component rather than historic. Some topics from last year’s program include archeology, art and murals. This year I want to incorporate as much science into the programs to help children gain an interest in STEM or just be exposed to it. Saugus Ironworks National Historic Site has a great geological history and natural environment which can easily be connected to the programs. I will be working alongside two Education Rangers, Tim and Carol who will co-present and co-develop the programs and my site supervisor, Maryann. I look forward to presenting my ideas and getting to share them with my team.

Another component of this project is helping to increase the park connection to the Latinx community by connecting with Salem Community Child Care Center which is located in a predominantly Dominican neighborhood. I will also be connecting with community organizations to continue building a relationship with the Park and the community of Salem. Bringing diversity to the park and being inclusive definitely plays a big role in Salem Maritime and Saugus Ironworks National Historic Sites.

Wednesday, 05 June 2019 01:34

Parks and Recreation: Salem

One week into my internship at Salem and it’s wicked cool! Yes, I did catch onto the Mass lingo. No, I have not been using it correctly.

On my first day, I arrived at the Hawkes House, a historic building which is now used as offices for the Park Rangers. I met Maryann, Park Education Specialist Ranger and my site supervisor who is wicked cool. I was surprised at first because I thought I would be working in the middle of nowhere, but the site is right in the middle of the Salem community and easily accessible to the public. Salem Maritime National Historic Site is a nine-acre site which runs along Derby Street and the waterfront consisting of several historic buildings, Derby Wharf, boats and a lighthouse which is powered by a solar panel! There are always people walking along the wharf whether it’s for exercise, to learn the history of the site, or just to hang out on the grass because it’s a sunny day. You can also always see Park Rangers walking around the site and interacting with the public.

I was scheduled to observe the program “Salem Sets Sail”, but it was cancelled because it was supposed to rain (it didn’t). Instead, we went to Friendship of Salem, a replica cargo vessel that was captured during the War of 1812, where we set-up for the Education Program that was scheduled the next day. I also got to meet the crew of Friendship and the Park Rangers who were all very welcoming.

Later in the day, I attended a meeting for the Salem Maritime Festival which occurs every summer. Five minutes into the meeting, I told Maryann that I felt like I was in Parks and Recreation because everyone was just being so unknowingly funny. It was even more hilarious when Socrates, a Park Ranger said that he had to add watching the show to his to-do list.

During my internship, I will also be working at Saugus Ironworks National Historic Site which I got to visit on Friday. Unlike Salem Maritime, Saugus Ironworks isn’t in the middle of the city and instead in the suburbs. Saugus Ironworks is a beautiful site with a museum, and nature trail overlooking the Saugus River. Walking through the nature trail completely transports you to a different environment with all the woodland, insect noises, and rabbits and squirrels running through the tall grass.  I got to go on a tour of the Saugus Ironworks which is a reconstruction of the blast furnace, forge, and rolling and slitting mill from the 1640s where iron was created.

Both sites are wicked awesome and I’m excited to be working here for the rest of the summer. 

Saturday, 25 May 2019 21:06

Gnarly East Coast

Hola everyone! My name is America Avila and I will be an intern for Salem Maritime and Saugus Ironworks National Historic Sites for the 2019 Latino Heritage Internship Program associated with the National Park Service (NPS) and Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF). 

I was born and raised in Yonkers, New York, land of the Lenape people. My father who migrated from Azogues, Ecuador to the United States of America loves the outdoors. Whenever my dad had a day off of work he would throw our rollerblades into the trunk of his white Ford and drive our family to different sites like Bear Mountain State Park.

My favorite picture of my dad is of him sitting on the grass of a park in Queens, New York wearing his black tank top and cargo shorts as he tied the laces of his purple wheeled rollerblades in concentration. During my second semester of college, I decided to take an ice skating class to meet my PE requirement and because I thought it would be easy since it’s similar to roller blading. Coming back from class one day, I called my dad crying because I had to hold onto the wall and everyone else in my class was gliding on the ice so easily. Whenever I’m talking to my dad he likes to make up stories as a joke but this time he was serious. When I was younger, my dad stopped rollerblading but I never asked him why. During this phone call he told me that he used to go to the same park every Saturday and bust his butt in front of everyone and he stopped going because the people around him laughed and pointed at him and he was embarrassed. He told me that he regretted it because he loved it and at least he was doing something. So, my next class I let go of the wall. By the end of the semester, I wasn’t Tonya Harding or Jonathan Van Ness but I did learn some gnarly ice skating skills and it’s now my favorite pastime. For my dad, I promised that I wasn’t going to stop learning or doing something I was passionate about because someone laughs at me or because I feel embarrassed. 

My mom is also a big inspiration to me. She reminds me of a bee and not just because her name is Beatriz, but because she is hard-working, strong and protects her family. My mom is from Veracruz, Mexico. She moved to the United States when she was 20 years old with her sister and always accomplishes everything she put her mind to like learning to play the piano and learning Hebrew and Greek. Being a first-generation student, I was scared about the college process and moving to a new city but my mom always encouraged me to reach for the stars. So, NASA, you’re next.

I just finished my first year of college at SUNY Potsdam in Potsdam, New York, land of the Mohawk people. I am majoring in Environmental Studies and currently trying to decide whether I want to minor in biology, geology, or computer science. Nerd Alert! Being so close to the Adirondacks, I got to explore many of the sites like Lampson Falls, Whiteface Mountain, Massawepie Lake, Tahawus, and Saranac Lake as part of the Adirondack FIG. During my time in Potsdam, I developed a strong value for the environment and began to focus more closely on environmental justice, sustainability and science. When I’m not in the library reading books, I like to be in the outdoors enjoying the immense beauty of nature or hiking, journaling, and collecting rocks. My rock collection is quite impressive. My goal after graduating college is to work in field research and in National Parks to keep growing my already astronomical love for the environment and to continue to be a steward of the environment.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019 14:43

America Avila

I am a first generation Ecuadorian-Mexican student attending SUNY Potsdam for a B.A. in Environmental Studies. I chose this field because of my interest in environmental justice, outdoor recreation and my astronomical love for nature. When I’m not focused on my studies, I’m either clumsily ice skating or journaling on a trail or any park close to me.