Conservation insights from intern Phuong Nguyen

by Betsy Daub
Phuong Nguyen presents her final internship poster as part of her Macalester College practicum.

Fall/winter 2019 Land Conservation intern Phuong Nguyen is a senior at Macalester College majoring in biology and environmental studies. As a citizen of Vietnam, she has some interesting perspectives about conservation, environmental advocacy and FMR’s work. She sat down with FMR Conservation Director Betsy Daub to share some of her insights.

Betsy: Tell me a bit about where you are from and how you became interested in environmental issues.

Phuong: Growing up in Hanoi, Vietnam where people don't exactly try to be in nature, I did not spend a lot of time with anything nonhuman as a child, save for a pet, park walks and zoo visits. Learning about climate change in high school really shaped my view of the world, however.

The idea that the world as we know it may not survive the next 100 years (within my lifetime) because of environmental destruction and climate change meant that I could not think of doing anything else but learning about why we got here and what we can do.

This is why I came to Macalester College for my undergraduate education, became a biology and environmental studies double major and have sought internship opportunities.

Betsy: What is one of the biggest takeaways you have from your semester with FMR? 

Phuong: The value of partnerships. Seeing how my supervisors interacted with partners — from contractors to staff at government agencies — made me realize the utter necessity and beauty of partnerships. These meetings help maintain relationships, lead to fruitful discussions and promise future collaborations toward common goals.

Betsy: What were some of your most memorable moments of your FMR experience?

Phuong: Definitely site visits with my supervisors where I was able to see in-person the restoration sites. It was exciting to be outside and see a diversity of landscapes and their specific restoration challenges.

I also got the chance to participate in meetings with partner organizations, contractors and volunteers. I learned a lot about partnership building and its importance in nonprofit work.

And the tree planting on Settler's Island was definitely one of the most fun volunteer events I've been a part of. Participants got to canoe or kayak to this site on the Mississippi River that FMR is restoring and the City of Cottage Grove is making accessible for public use. We planted seedlings of native trees such as white oak and maple on land previously covered with buckthorn.

Betsy: Can you explain a bit about the focus of your internship and why it was important?

Phuong: The majority of my internship was spent doing data entry and summarizing monitoring information for the Land Conservation team. FMR has conservation sites throughout the Twin Cities and we want to know that we are doing a good job at restoring these sites to native landscapes that house biodiversity.

During the summer months, groups of staff and volunteers do bird and pollinator surveys on our restoration sites. I was very happy to find that the sites I looked at have a high level of diversity, including many Species of Greatest Conservation Need (always a good thing!) and endangered native pollinators. [More about rare or endangered species at FMR sites

Betsy: What are environmental attitudes like in Vietnam? 

Phuong: Just 10 or 15 years ago, the general view seemed to be that landscape change and pollution was a reasonable price for industrial and urbanizing developments. Nowadays, with increasing awareness, many people in my generation care about environmental protection more and are beginning to ask, "Why does it have to be that way? Is that what we really want?"

The growing popularity and success of campaigns such as plastic use reduction and petitions against the development of natural parks are clear signs that today Vietnamese people care and are willing to do much more for our environment.

Betsy: What do you hope to do as a career?

Phuong: I hope to work as a scientist studying biodiversity in Vietnam, maybe working with non-governmental organizations to translate my studies into meaningful community conservation projects!

My country is said to have high levels of biodiversity but few people in Vietnam really pay attention to nature. I want to see wildlife for myself and help others appreciate our natural scene so we can do a better job of protecting the environment.

I will miss dearly FMR's office and all the staff, chats over lunch and how people stay a bit longer to chat at the end of the workday. I have always felt so welcomed and a sense of belonging even though I'm a short-term intern. FMR is such a special place to work.

Betsy: Phuong, you've done an amazing job and we'll miss you very much! We look forward to keeping in touch.


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