Environmental research and public engagement create ideal summer internship for student

D.C.-area native returns home for summer internship as a Citizen Scientist for the Smithsonian
Photo: Deserae E. del Campo/University of Miami

For University of Miami junior, Sophia Plancich, science has long been a way of life. She never had any doubt that her future would involve devising ways to protect the environment.

When Plancich, who is from Fairfax County in Northern Virginia (just outside of Washington, D.C.), saw openings for internships this summer at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), she leapt at the opportunity. As a kid, she spent a lot of time in museums. 

"I've been going to Smithsonian Museums my entire life," Plancich said. “The Smithsonian Natural History Museum was my favorite one to visit. I loved seeing the dinosaur skeletons.”

Given her love of science and museums, she knew that spending her summer at SERC would be a perfect fit for her. The internship organizers apparently realized it, too. Her 10-week summer internship will see Plancich working as a Smithsonian Citizen Scientist based in Baltimore, MD.

Citizen Scientists work alongside researchers to investigate and report on numerous environmental topics such as environmental archaeology, forest biodiversity, invasive species distributions, and water quality issues. This new opportunity will be an occasion for Plancich to do some work in her native mid-Atlantic region.

“Specially, I will be doing different experiments and engaging faith and youth communities,” she adds. "Baltimore is an area where people don't have a lot of access to green space and forests. Since patches of land are typically owned by churches, the internship involves engaging people in religious communities and other local groups. The idea is to promote environmental literacy to help people change their sustainability practices."

A recent arrival to the University as a transfer student, Plancich has followed her passions for environmental science to South Florida. She is currently working towards a double major in ecosystem science and policy and international studies. She is also pursuing minors in art and geography. Though a recent transfer, she has made connections with professors in her areas of interest in remarkable time. 

For instance, her experience in the Geography and Sustainable Development Department in the College of Arts & Sciences has been especially fruitful. This past spring semester, Plancich started working as a research assistant for faculty members Haoluan Wang and Han Li. Their project's objective involved finding government-instituted infrastructure projects that help mitigate climate change impacts in South Florida's coastal counties.

"I was responsible for locating hard-to-find public records for the professors to analyze," Plancich said. "I collected data for them in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties and reached out to different local entities that have construction projects in place for such things like sea walls, flood gauges, and the rebuilding of canals."

Plancich's classes have also been illuminating for her. She cites "Climate Change and Public Health" with Associate Professor Justin Stoler and "Global Issues in Filmmaking" with Lecturer Dina Moulioukova as particularly impactful. 

Professor Stoler noted, "Sophia has a great feel for how local sustainability efforts relate to global processes. None of us were surprised when she was selected for this prestigious internship." 

After graduation, Plancich said she would like to go into environmental policy and sustainability. "I'm really interested in the impacts of climate change on public health and climate change mitigation efforts.”