MA student, Dina Schwartz, shares her experience on NHSN’s Student Award Scheme in the midst of a global pandemic.
In September of 2019 I moved from sunny Phoenix, Arizona to Newcastle upon Tyne to complete my MA in Education: International Perspectives at Newcastle University. I came to Newcastle with great plans to see all there was to see of Northumberland, but as the days got shorter and the air got colder with only my feet and public transportation to get around, I found myself less and less inclined to explore beyond the city centre. In the midst of what felt like an endless frozen winter (note that it had not even snowed yet) I retreated back to my warm desert home for six weeks. I returned to England refreshed and soaked with enough vitamin D to last until spring. By early March I was desperate to break out of the city centre and explore the green landscapes of Northumberland.
As an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology undergraduate major, I frequently visited the Great North Museum: Hancock and it was through there that I found the Natural History Society of Northumbria. I read about the Gosforth Nature Reserve (GNR) right on the edge of the city and immediately registered for an annual NHSN membership. I was so excited to visit the GNR, but just as fast as I found it, it was shut down by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national lockdown. I sat in waiting for the next couple months and when they were finally able to re-open, I made my way out there to get lost in nature. In June I applied to be a Volunteer Ranger at the Gosforth Nature Reserve and by July I had my orientation and began spending a bit of my time every week welcoming NHSN members to the reserve. Over my first few months volunteering, I met an amazing group of volunteers from all walks of life who, like me, had found refuge in the nature of the organisation and the reserve around us.
As a student I was able to commit the time I spent at the GNR to the NHSN’s Student Award Scheme and not long after I started, I was asked to assist with additional projects to benefit my progress in the student award programme. In August I helped to make the volunteer rota online and self-sustaining which has significantly improved our ability to self-organise as volunteers in a time when we cannot meet all together. In September I reviewed the GNR’s recent education survey and produced a brief review of the findings for NHSN grant proposals. When I was working on my master’s dissertation in the midst of a global pandemic, my fellow Volunteer Rangers were always there to lend an ear, advice, and encourage me to carry on. They engaged in conversations with me that helped build my confidence as a student, a ranger, and a member of the NHSN community.
Without the NHSN’s Student Award Scheme, I likely never would have considered myself qualified to take part in the 1829 Talk series, but the NHSN was brilliant at supporting me to be successful. After completing my NHSN 1829 Talk, in addition to 20 days spent volunteering at the reserve and my two additional projects, I achieved the highest tier in the Student Award Scheme – Academic Ambassador.
For the first time since moving to England, I find myself a part of something bigger than myself. I am smack dab in the middle of a brilliant community of people who come together to make the reserve a welcoming place to people and nature alike. The NHSN and my role at the GNR have been so much more than I ever imagined it would be when I registered my membership nearly a year ago. At the start, it was a very welcomed safe harbour to the mental and emotional strain of doing my master’s dissertation and today it remains a place where I can be surrounded by a world bigger than my own and be lost in time to the nature. To anyone looking for a community of people that love learning, teaching, and exploring, then becoming a member of the Natural History Society of Northumbria should be at the top of your to-do list, and if you are a student looking for an opportunity to expand your experiences, I cannot recommend the opportunities afforded by the NHSN’s Student Award Scheme enough.
Build your skills in natural history›
Through our Student Award Scheme, you’ll development key skills relevant to a career in conservation.
Take part to discover new opportunities in fieldwork, research, rangering, and communications. You’ll also make the most of a range of networking and mentoring opportunities alongside friendly NHSN experts.