People using small nets to collect grasshoppers for behavior and physiology research

New Haven Promise Interns Get Field Experience at YSE this Summer

A trio of local scholars are gaining hands-on work experience in Yale School of the Environment faculty labs this summer.

By Emily Halnon

While Gaston Neville was growing up in New Haven, he found himself asking a lot of questions about the city and its relationship to the surrounding environment.

“I remember thinking: ‘Why is the waterfront cut off? Why is this beach so gross? Is this the best place for a highway?’” he says. “I kept thinking about how things could be better for the people who live here.”

This interest led Neville to the Yale School for the Environment this summer, where he is working as a New Haven Promise intern at the Yale Center for Environmental Justice. The New Haven Promise program provides paid internships to help New Haven students access valuable work experience in their respective fields of study as well as Yale-funded tuition scholarships for local students who are attending public colleges and universities in Connecticut. It primarily serves students of color from lower-income households. Since it was established in 2010, the New Haven Promise program has contributed $25 million in scholarship aid, helping more than 2,000 eligible local students. Yale recently increased its financial commitment to the program by $1 million annually for a total of $5 million.

Neville is one of three students from the program interning at YSE. Ian Robinson and Kylee Brown are also earning environmental work experience in faculty labs.

The Yale School of the Environment has proudly supported this program for over five years. We recognize how crucial it is to empower New Haven and its youth in the environmental field for a sustainable future.”

Melanie Quigley Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives at YSE

“The Yale School of the Environment has proudly supported this program for over five years. We recognize how crucial it is to empower New Haven and its youth in the environmental field for a sustainable future,” says Melanie Quigley, executive director of strategic initiatives at YSE.

Neville, a graduate of the University of Connecticut with a degree in environmental and urban and community studies, has been setting up a data center for environmental justice research that addresses issues in the New Haven area. Neville says he was drawn to this project because of its focus on making the data more accessible to New Haven residents and his desire to pursue a career in environmental justice and urban planning.

“So much of environmentalism can be devoid of the human aspect,” says Neville. “Growing up in New Haven, I know that environmentalism is directly related to how people interact with the environment and cities. Building sustainable cities is actually one of the most important ways we can fight climate change, pollution, and environmental denigration.”

Kristin Barendregt-Ludwig, program manager for YECJ, says Neville has brought vital insights to the team’s research.

“Gaston’s experience as a New Haven native has brought important context to our work to develop a New Haven-specific research repository on people and the environment in the last 10 years,” she says. “His knowledge and skills in environmental justice and data analysis have supported thoughtful and insightful developments for our team.”

Urban wildlife

Brown has been working in Knobloch Family Associate Professor of Wildlife and Land Conservation Nyeema Harris’s lab on a project examining wildlife ecology and conservation in urban systems. While in middle school, Brown attended the Yale Pathways to Science program where she loved interacting with the diverse group of scientists.  She says it was then that she realized there was a place for her in science — and “that it wasn’t just for men or people with privilege.”

Satellite image of the New Haven area
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“I hadn’t seen people like me in this field and Pathways to Science sparked the flame that I belong in science,” says Brown, who graduated this year from the University of Connecticut with a degree in natural resources and the environment.

Her work this summer includes sorting images from a game camera in Detroit to learn about the relationship between urban systems and wildlife.

“I’ve always wanted to do hands-on work helping wildlife populations,” she says.

Up close with insects

Robinson developed an interest in the environment while he was growing up in New Haven where he says he spent his childhood chasing bugs and playing with worms around the city. Now, he is chasing bugs for his internship. Robinson, an environmental studies student at Southern Connecticut State University, is working in Oastler Professor of Population and Community Ecology Oswald Schmitz’s lab. His days have involved running around meadows with a net, catching grasshoppers to study how they are affected by different changes to their ecosystem.

Annise Dobson, a postdoctoral researcher in the Schmitz Lab who is supervising Robinson, says he has been helpful in identifying invasive species.

“We are working on a number of different projects looking at the resiliency of ecological communities in the face of anthropogenic changes, such as climate change and invasive species,” says Dobson. “Ian has been great at learning on the fly, identifying and working with insects, spiders, earthworms, and plants.”

Robinson would like to continue his research in conservation after graduation, doing similar work to what he has been introduced to through the Schmitz Lab.

“I have a lot of gratitude for this internship,” Robinson said. “It’s a really immersive experience with work you can actually turn into a career.”

Photo: New Haven Promise intern Ian Robinson , right, collected grasshoppers in July at sites near Yale Forest for behavior and physiology research.

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