In December 1959, the Port Authority announced plans to construct a jetport in the marshlands between Chatham and Harding Township. Helen Fenske had a different vision. She led a grassroots movement that resulted in the creation, by an act of Congress in 1960, of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

Fifty years later Kyle O’Neill C’12 served as an intern at the Raptor Trust, a wild bird rehabilitation center located in the Great Swamp, and his internship completes the circle. Kyle O’Neill was able to spend last summer in hands-on work at the trust, including caring for a nest of birds from the time they hatched until their release into the wild, because he was the 2010 recipient of the Helen C. Fenske Internship at Drew University.

In 2006 Drew University launched an academic major in Environmental Studies and Sustainability, pulling together a range of disciplines as seemingly disparate as economics and ecology. ESS majors explore Earth’s global life-support systems and opportunities for sustainable practices. Experiential learning, such as an internship, is integral to this major. Internships provide opportunities for students to develop their skills and gain real world experience. However, many undergraduates need to take jobs during winter and summer breaks to pay for their education and so are unable to participate in internships, especially unpaid positions at not-for-profit organizations.

That is where the Helen C. Fenske Internship comes in. Helen Fenske had a special connection with Drew. She was the mother of two Drew undergraduates, a consultant on science curriculum and recipient of an Honorary Degree. So when Helen passed away in 2007, friends, family and fellow environmentalists created a fund at Drew in her memory to support students pursuing internships in environmental studies and public policy.

Kyle fully recognizes the importance of the Helen Fenske Internship and the story behind it. With the internship stipend, he was able to work full-time at the Raptor Trust, pursuing his passion and expanding his knowledge of bird classifications, anatomy, diseases and treatments. Among Kyle’s cherished memories was the opportunity to handle baby screech owls. “After about two months of working with the song birds, I was fortunate enough to handle raptors. The screech owls were like little puffballs, but with sharp, strong talons, and they “click” at you. They had to be weighed to make sure they were healthy and as I put each bird back in the box they would huddle together and look up at you with those adorable big eyes,” recalls Kyle. “This internship really afforded me the opportunity to put theory into practice. Now I believe even more firmly in the importance of preserving and protecting wildlife.”

– by Barbara Price with reporting by Erik Bloomquist C’14

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