Community Engaged Internship spotlight: Joi Gross

woman standing in water holding a jar
Courtesy of Joi Gross

Joi Gross, an environmental science undergraduate student at the University of Alaska Southeast, is working with Alaska Environment as part of Alaska Sea Grant’s Community Engaged Internship (CEI) program. Joi is sampling waterways across Southcentral Alaska for microplastics.

In an effort to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in coastal and marine science, education, policy and decision-making, Alaska Sea Grant implements a state CEI program as part of a nationwide network. The 10-week paid summer internship, under the leadership of coastal community resilience specialist Davin Holen, provides training and mentorship through a local research, outreach or public engagement project.

This summer, we selected and matched three interns with hosts. In addition to being mentored by their local hosts, the interns meet online for professional development and networking as part of a national cohort. Recently, Joi and other interns from around the country gave presentations to their cohort and mentors about their internship experiences.

Joi is from Anchorage and graduated from Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School, one of the most diverse high schools in the country. Below, she shares what she gained from her CEI internship.

water samples in jars from Terns Lake, Bishop Beach and Ninilchik River.
Collected water samples. Courtesy of Joi Gross.

Before this summer, I did not know much about microplastics and how harmful they are to the environment. As I began to conduct research, I learned that plastic is a product of human origin and does not break down naturally. Over time, discarded plastic breaks down into smaller pieces called microplastics. When microplastics in the environment enter the food chain, they can have harmful impacts due to the toxins in the plastics, and this is a severe global problem.

boots on patterned sand
Photo courtesy of Joi Gross.

For my summer project, I am working with Dyani Chapman, the state director for Alaska Environment. The focus of this project is to test for microplastics in several waterways across Southcentral Alaska. We will provide a report to the public, as well as policy recommendations to help prevent further pollution. Dyani and I collected a total of thirty samples and processed the water samples ourselves. It has been uplifting for me to go through the steps of collecting data and testing samples, because I’m not only getting my feet wet with a position related to my career path, but I’m also applying knowledge gained from my college courses. From the beginning of the project, our findings have been incredibly telling, and I have learned so much. I am pretty confident now when identifying microfibers, films and shards, which were not so easy to spot when I first started.

Besides working with Dyani, I have attended professional development sessions provided by Sea Grant. Each session is unique and helpful, covering topics such as creating resumes, networking, and self-evaluation. I have had an amazing time this summer and am sad that it will soon be coming to an end. I am grateful to all of the people who have helped me get to where I am today. I hope you enjoy these cool photos of the work I have done so far.