High school interns capture experience with creative projects

October 13, 2021

Grace Pepperman and her quilt

by Julie Dodd

‘Creatively capture the experience of being a Great Smoky Mountains National Park high school summer intern’ was the challenge Ranger Julianne Geleynse gave to the six Tennessee interns. Geleynse is the coordinator of the internship program for students from Tennessee and has worked with the program for eight years.

GSMNP high school interns from Tennessee 2021
The Tennessee GSMNP high school interns pose for a group photo at a field trip to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Front row (left to right): Carson Johnson, internship program co-leader Becca Foster, Adrian Thomas and Kaylie Hallcox. Back row: Janasia Salde, Grace Pepperman and Morgan Kirkpatrick. NPS photo

Geleynse said she decided the final projects should take a creative approach, rather than having the interns make PowerPoint presentations about their experience.

“I’m hoping those projects are something they will keep and that will remind them of their experiences,” Geleynse said.

During their paid six-week internship, the students explored the park, learned about National Park Service careers, and worked with NPS crews and park researchers. (Read more about their work experiences and the internship selection process — GSMNP high school internship experience: Service and Discovery.)

Projects: Quilt, leather carving, art, video, and poetry

Morgan Kirkpatrick's leather art
Morgan Kirkpatrick’s project included photos and leather carvings of Smokies wildlife, including fish and a firefly. NPS photo

Geleynse’s challenge led to a range of creative projects.

Kaylie Hallcox wrote a poem, “A Smoky Mountain Summer.” Hallcox is a Seymour High School graduate, now attending the University of Tennessee/Knoxville in environmental science. (Her poem is included in this post.)

Carson Johnson’s art creation was inspired by the interns’ “Garbage Week,” when the interns counted the amount of trash each created at lunch for a week. Johnson painted a view of Purchase Knob on a shoe found in the park. Johnson is a Maryville High School graduate, planning to major in environmental studies.

Morgan Kirkpatrick used photographs and leather carving of different wildlife experiences from the internship (firefly, elk, calf and lichen). Kirkpatrick is a Cocke County (Newport) High School graduate, now attending Walter State Community College with plans of becoming a park ranger.

Grace Pepperman created a quilt. (See photo at top of this page.) Pepperman is a Maryville High School graduate, now attending the University of Notre Dame in environmental engineering.

Janasia Slade and Adrian Thomas created a video about the internship experiences. Slade is a Fulton High School graduate, who is attending cosmetology school. Thomas is a Fulton High School senior, with plans of attending medical school.

A Smoky Mountain summer

By Kaylie Hallcox

GSMNP interns attending Fire School
Interns, wearing Nomex flame-resistant jackets, attended Fire School to learn wild firefighting strategies and skills. NPS photo

Tucked away in the Smokies
A flash of maroon and khaki kids
Make their way
Through forested Trails
And winding, rocky streams

Many a thing 
Do they encounter
Whether it be
Tourists trying to test our tenacity
Or nature knowing just how to surprise and excite 

On veg day by the river
Pulling the invasive euonymous,
We found felons from afar (or up close)
And accidentally tuck sweaty faces
In poison leaves of three
(I’m thankful for Technu)

Interns worked with the Trails Forever crew on Abrams Falls Trail. NPS photo

The falling water of Spruce Flats 
Watched interns one-by-one
Slide into its shaded pool
All while rock cairns turned their face to hide
From their tumbling fate

We’ve had icy water to our waist in waders
Trying to catch
Electrocuted rainbow and brook trout
That floated down stream
To evade our nets
And slip us up on rocks

Strained eyes looked through binoculars
For detailed and patterned wings
Of Tremont butterflies that fluttered away
As if reluctant to be counted
and identified

Shovels flung with Elkmont ash
To be drive away
And bubbled up,
burnt picnic table planks flipped
As working backs hit the dirt to
Hammer and screw them into place

Muddy banks of park creeks 
Swallowed our black boots
While tired arms swept nets for
Dragonfly nymphs
To be measured, bagged, and cooled

GSMNP high school interns cycling in Cades Cove
High school interns cycled Cades Cove after clearing overhanging brush along Abrams Falls Trail. NPS photo

Cades Cove camp store ice cream
Marked the end of a humid day
Hauling and sawing
The treen overhang of brush
Carried or tossed out of hikers’ sight

The cool air of Gap Cave welcomed us
As we stumbled on her slick steps
And ducked our heads
To gaze upon bats that clung to mineral walls
And salamanders that waved hello in every hall

And a spotted elk calf hidden
In a meadow between woods
Laid still as North Carolina and Tennessee
Carefully creeped and encircled
Only to come upon it already collared
(we wish we got the change to tackle it) 

Our days here could be measured in packed lunches 
Trails hiked and steps taken
People met and acquaintances made
Or maybe even
Morgan’s most entertaining quotes and falls

But with many unique memories made 
And all the knowledge learned
The part to be remembered most
Is the fantastic friends I’ve made
And the wonderful people that led us through


Partners And Funders

Funding for the internship program comes from a variety of sources — the National Park Foundation, the National Environmental Education Foundation, and the National Park Service’s Youth Partnership ProgramFriends of the Smokies pays for supplies and for the program’s graduation event. The Tremont Institute provides some staff members to help with the program.

Partner organizations include the Boys and Girls ClubAmerican Conservation Experience (ACE), CAC AmeriCorps, and the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.