Building Knowledge and Skills Through Internship

October 13, 2020

In the fall of 2019, Kristen Stec arrived at Green Chimneys to start an internship. Having just graduated from Saint Michael College with a bachelor’s of science in biology and a minor in chemistry, Kristen was excited to merge her scientific knowledge with hands-on work with animals.

Kristen came here not as a stranger, but as someone who grew up “with” Green Chimneys. She attended Green Chimneys Summer Camp at Clearpool and later, was a camp counselor at Hillside. During college, Kristen spent a summer working in the Horse Barn. It was her first time working directly with equines, and the experience inspired her to pursue a career working with animals.

Tradition of teaching the next generation

Internships have long been a part of how Green Chimneys shares its expertise and promotes advocacy for children and animals. Supporting the future of the human-animal interaction through education is one of the main facets of The Sam and Myra Ross Institute at Green Chimneys. Through the Henry J. and Erna D. Leir Global Internship program, individuals launching or changing careers have the opportunity to fuse knowledge with practice. “The future of ethical and effective human-animal interaction services relies on trained professionals,” explains Michael Kaufmann who directs both The Institute and the Farm & Wildlife Center. “While academic institutions can provide the theoretical foundation of this work, an internship with The Sam and Myra Institute offers a rich immersion into the challenges and opportunities of working with children and animals over months. In the process, skills emerge and lives are enriched.”

Expanding experience with animals while also partnering with students and staff

Kristen spent last fall and early winter in the Horse Barn. Working with staff, students, volunteers and, of course, the equines, she quickly realized that she wanted to extend her time. Kristen began a second internship in the Teaching Barn, which is home to a range of livestock including chickens, sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas, pigs, and so on.

Kristen credits her dual internship for helping her adapt to new and different environments more quickly, as well as enhancing her abilities as a handler. “Some of the biggest takeaways from interning with both horses and livestock are learning how to work as a team, learning how to handle difficult animals, and learning to be more confident in myself,” Kristen explains.

Lessons from a llama

One animal that has clearly left a lasting impression is the llama Lance. At just seven years old, Lance is relatively young as most llamas live to be around 20. Between his personality and age, Lance has shown great potential for partnership in sessions with students. For several months, Kristen worked with Lance using clicker training to strengthen existing skills and to help develop new ones, too. By working with Kristen, Lance remains engaged, thus supporting his health and enhancing future interactions with students.

Kristen and Lance during one of the llama’s teachable moments.

“Lance has taught me a lot of patience,” Kristen explains. “There were days where I was determined to engage Lance in an activity that he had never done before, such as jumping over a log or climbing up a wood chip pile. Some days he would be really into working with me and then there were days he did not want to work one bit.” On the days that Lance was struggling, Kristen says that she really had to take a step back and look at the situation and try different approaches. She likened it to working with Green Chimneys students in terms of breaking down tasks into smaller steps to complete a goal. Over time, Kristen felt a bond had been created; Lance began greeting her when he was out at pasture and would simply observe what she was doing.

Kristen also acknowledges the support of her supervisors and the camaraderie of farm staff and interns for her success. We wish Kristen well in her future pursuits and we are confident she will stay in touch with Lance…and many others here!

Learn more about the Institute Internship program