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Our Review of Wave Hill's Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship (WERM)

If you are interested in how living organisms interact with one another, then there’s a good chance you’ll love ecology. Ecology interacts quite heavily with other science streams such a biology, chemistry, physics and astronomy. Wave Hill’s Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship (WERM) is a program focused on making the study of ecology accessible to high school students.


This article highlights an opportunity for students interested in immersing themselves in the urban environment of New York City to understand how ecology and research can go hand in hand. 


What is Wave Hill's Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship (WERM)?

The Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship (WERM) is a comprehensive 14-month program tailored for motivated high school students in New York City.  Participants can expect to immerse themselves in ecology while actively engaging in hands-on fieldwork and authentic scientific research.


At Wave Hill(located in the Bronx), a hub within a community of dedicated scientists and restoration practitioners, WERM interns become integral contributors to enhancing New York City's vast natural areas spanning 20,000 acres. Through their involvement in vital field research, these interns work alongside local scientists and restoration experts, gaining valuable insights and making tangible contributions to ongoing projects. Notably, participants are compensated for their contributions, receiving payment for their involvement in these significant initiatives.


How is WERM structured?

The structure of the Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship program covers three distinct phases, each incorporating various components such as hands-on fieldwork, educational modules, collaborative initiatives, and mentor-guided research. Interns partake in a holistic learning experience, delving into urban ecology within immersive and collaborative settings.


Phase I: First Summer

Duration: July to August, Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 4 PM.


During this phase, interns engage in two college courses to instill foundational knowledge in restoration ecology, data collection techniques, and scientific analysis tools. These courses, "Mapping New York City's Urban Environment: An Introduction to Geographic Information Systems" and "Restoration of New York City’s Natural Areas," blend classroom instruction with hands-on fieldwork in local woodlands, allowing interns to apply ecological principles to real-world scenarios.


Phase II: Academic Year

Duration: Saturday workshops starting in mid-September, 10 AM to 4 PM.

Building upon the summer's fieldwork and coursework, Phase II emphasizes project-based learning, field trips, presentations, and workshops ("WERMshops") to deepen interns' comprehension of scientific research, ecological concepts, potential careers in environmental fields, and urban green spaces across NYC. In the spring, interns form teams, select mentors, and initiate groundwork for research projects.


Phase III: Second Summer

Duration: July to mid-August, Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 4 PM.

In this phase, interns focus on small group research projects guided by mentors, dedicating four days a week to collaborative work and independent tasks. Weekly sessions include a Research Methods course and an improv class to hone communication and public speaking skills. The phase culminates with interns presenting their research at a celebratory graduation symposium in August. Additionally, interns can showcase their research through the NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium at events held in June and August at The American Museum of Natural History.


What kinds of summer courses are offered? 

During the summer, WERM and Forest Project interns at Wave Hill have access to three accredited college courses taught by Wave Hill staff and endorsed by the College of Mount Saint Vincent. Among these courses, all interns engage in "Restoration of New York City’s Natural Areas." Specifically designed for WERM interns, "Mapping New York City’s Urban Environment—An Introduction to GIS" and "Research Methods" are exclusive to WERM participants. Each course holds the value of full, transferable college credits. Detailed course content and schedule information can be found on the course website


Is WERM a prestigious program?

While WERM is not directly associated with a university or institution, the program still provides a high-level educational integration project that can be classified as prestigious. The WERM program’s prestige lies in its comprehensive offerings that elevate it above standard internships. One of the advents of the program that makes it both competitive and prestigious is its stipend. Participants receive a stipend of approximately $3,500 dispersed over the program’s duration. Additionally, the opportunity to earn college credit for a course completed during the program adds an academic edge, enhancing participants' educational profiles. Beyond monetary compensation and academic merit, the program provides invaluable guidance and training regarding career paths and college choices, enriching interns' personal and professional development. This unique combination of financial support, academic credit, mentorship, and networking underscores the program's prestige and commitment to fostering participants' success.


Who should apply? 

Candidates best suited for the WERM program are interested in scientific research and the intricacies of urban environments. Commitment to the entirety of the 14-month program is a prerequisite for applicants.

Acknowledging the enrichment derived from diverse perspectives collaborating to comprehend our world, the program actively seeks applicants from all corners of New York City who harbor a keen interest in urban ecology and are dedicated to supporting their peers’ educational journeys.

Special emphasis is placed on encouraging applications from individuals identifying as Black, Latinx, Indigenous, or hailing from underprivileged schools and communities.


Applicants must meet specific criteria to be eligible for the WERM program. They should currently attend high school and be at least 16 years old by May 1, 2025, while also being residents of New York City with the legal right to work in the United States. A genuine passion for scientific research and a keen interest in understanding urban environments are essential qualifications. 


What are the important dates and deadlines? 

The application period for the Summer 2024 cycle will be open from December 4 till March 8. You can access the application here, where you will answer short questions and additional information. 


Does the application require a written statement? 

The application requires a series of short essay questions, including the Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship section. In 400-500 words, the two essay questions to consider are: Discuss how climate change has impacted your community. What have you seen or experienced? Then, consider ways that these same impacts could be addressed. Are there any solutions that you would be interested in working on? (400-500 words). And the second one asks: Where does your interest in this program come from? What are some of your favorite memories connected to nature? (400-500 words)


Pros and Cons of the WERM program

Pros of WERM

1. Enhance your college applications

Specialized summer programs like WERM spotlight a student's dedication, enriching college applications—particularly beneficial for those eyeing environmental studies or biology majors. The hands-on experiences offer invaluable exposure and demonstrate a genuine passion for ecological sciences, enhancing academic profiles.

2. Gain real-world research experience

WERM bridges theoretical learning with practical application through fieldwork and research collaborations. This hands-on approach fosters a deeper understanding of ecological principles, which is crucial for aspiring environmental scientists or biologists post-graduation.The coursework includes systems such as GIS to help participants gain real-world experience on Urban planning and mapping. The courses offered are eligible for use as college credit depending on the university you apply to! 


3. Engage in a comprehensive learning structure

The program's structured phases provide a holistic learning experience, integrating coursework, fieldwork, and collaborative research. From foundational knowledge to specialized courses, WERM equips participants with a diverse skill set and practical insights into ecological research.


4. Receive a Stipend

As a participant, you are eligible to receive $3,500 to participate in the program as a stipend for your work. The stipend will be dispersed throughout the program instead of upfront, so you will have the opportunity to be paid for your work!


Cons of WERM

1. Be prepared for a long-term commitment

The 14-month duration might pose challenges for students with conflicting schedules or commitments, requiring unwavering dedication throughout the phases.

2. Be prepared for a competitive application process

Due to its prestigious nature and comprehensive offerings, the application process for WERM might be highly competitive, potentially leading to some qualified candidates not being selected.

3. Be sure to check the location and eligibility criteria / geographical limitation

The program's location in New York City might present a barrier for students residing outside the area, limiting accessibility and participation for those unable to commute or relocate for the duration of the program. The program is not limited to just NY residents, however you will need to make an effort to relocate to NYC for the summer  if you live out of state. 


Is WERM Worth It?

Wave Hill’s Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship (WERM) offers a prestigious platform that enriches students’ understanding of ecological sciences through hands-on experiences. While it provides unparalleled opportunities and enhances college prospects, the limited cohort, long-term commitment, and competitive application process might present challenges for some prospective candidates. Ultimately, the program's comprehensive structure and valuable experiences make it a noteworthy opportunity for passionate students seeking a deeper immersion in ecological research and urban environments.


Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re looking for the opportunity to do in-depth research on various topics in ecology and urban studies, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Tenzing Dolma is a Masters student specializing in research following the Nechung Oracle and the historical, religious, and cognitive approaches to its presence. She has a bachelors in Neuroscience from Loyola University Chicago and is currently completing her graduate studies at Columbia University. She hopes to help students find their passions through access to programs and organizations the same way she found hers!


Image Source: Wave Hill


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