Grant to fund STEM internship

gopher tortoise

St. Petersburg College’s Bay Pines STEM Center was recently awarded a grant from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP). The Digital Challenge Micro Grant awards a little over $900 to fund a paid STEM-based internship opportunity for an SPC student to help monitor the threatened gopher tortoises recently released at the STEM Center.

“This grant will give us the opportunity to educate and engage students and community members via social media on how tortoises benefit the environment,” STEM Center Director Erica Moulton said.

The STEM internship was awarded to Leonard Sala, who is working on his degree in Environmental Science at SPC. Sala will track the tortoises in their new habitat via photo documentation, monitor and document any other species present in the burrows, and share status updates of the project through social media.

Sala is currently on track to graduate with an Associate Degree in Environmental Science at the end of the Summer 2020 term, and plans to continue on to earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Science. A full-time student and primary caretaker of his seven-month-old daughter, Sala said the paid internship is helpful.

“The TBEP grant and internship with the STEM Center will provide financial means to help support my family and school expenses accrued along the way,” he said.

Sala says the internship will also will help him develop and expand his professional work experience within his career field.

“I’m excited about learning new competencies and skills that will come in handy when I’m getting started in the environmental science field,” Sala said. “Getting the opportunity to work up close with gopher tortoise conservation methods, techniques and procedures will provide tools I can take with me for a lifetime.”

Moulton says the internship provides a win-win situation. 

“The grant provides a funding opportunity for the student, who was unable to complete an internship elsewhere, and this data will really give us a chance to see how wildlife adjusts and compensates on its own during this unique time in history,” Moulton said. “It also gives the community of scientists information about the waif reintroduction process that might otherwise go undocumented.”

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