Summer Intern Hopes Her Virtual Work Leads to Real-Life Connections to Wisconsin Lakes

Although Cassie Gauthier never got to visit Trout Lake Station and had to do all of her work from her parent’s house this summer, she still managed to share so much of what we do with a broader audience. We can’t thank her enough and hope you’ll read this her excellent farewell to Trout Lake.

Cassie Gauthier.

by Cassie Gauthier – Though my memory is a bit fuzzy, I remember coming to this lake when I was very young. I remember piling into my grandpa’s boat with my siblings, cousins, aunt, uncle, parents and grandparents and motoring across the lake to a campsite with a sandy beach. The whole family would stay here most of the day. The kids, including me, would be swimming and building sandcastles while the adults seemed to sit in the same spot on the beach talking for hours.

I remember my dad purposefully taking the road that follows this lakeshore on our way to and from visiting our grandparent’s house. He would make sure to tell us, “look out at the lake” and point out the weather station in the middle of the water and explain why it was there.

I remember coming here, as well, on cooler evenings in the spring. We would come to fish off of shore, tired from a full day of activities in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. I would always be bundled in a hoodie, with one of my dad’s big jackets over my shoulders, shivering in the wind. These were some of the most peaceful evenings, casting a Rapala into the water and not hearing anything other than the bird and frog chirps around us, an occasional swirl in the water, and my dad and brothers’ mumbled conversation a little ways away.

I remember traveling with my dad to the research station on this lake, where I sat and listened to his interns talk about their research on this and other lakes throughout the summer and thinking how cool it would be to do work like they were doing. I also remember hearing for the first time that my own brother was going to be staying at the same station on this lake – so close to home – for part of his first college summer doing his own cool project.

He has lived in the camp-like cabins on that station for the past four summers and I have many memories of visiting him and meeting many others living on station too.

Now, here I am, once again standing on the shore looking out over Trout Lake.

This time, though, it’s a new experience. I am not here to spend time with my family, or here for their work or to visit my brother. I am here on my own. For my own summer project.

You see, I went away to college, moved from Vilas County to Dane, where the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison sits on a different lake.  I have learned a lot. I am majoring in neurobiology and psychology and, through classes and the lab that I work in, I have engaged in a lot of conversations about the importance of science learning on overall brain development. I’ve puzzled over what makes some people are more engaged with science than others. I have also realized that, for most of my life, I have not appreciated enough where I come from.

Cassie as a kid – about to explore another Wisconsin lake with her siblings.

I come from a family with parents who taught us about ecology and the importance of conserving natural ecosystems. I grew up on beautiful lakes with large magnificent trees in my backyard and was constantly asking questions and learning about my own habitat.

It has led me, time and again, back to Trout Lake. And, this summer, it is was my turn to teach people a few things and help them appreciate Wisconsin’s amazing lakes as much as I do.

Of course, summer 2020 has been quite different due to the coronavirus. For starters, I didn’t get to live on station with a group of other undergrads. All of my work was done nearby, from my family’s home. In fact, I wasn’t even allowed to travel anywhere on official UW business. That is why I am here, overlooking Trout Lake at the North Trout Lake boat launch, a public access point, and not seeing the view mt Dad and brother know so well from the dock at Trout Lake Station.

My whole summer was one of virtual science outreach. While our blog is an easy, socially distant way to tell some of the stories of the researchers at Trout Lake Station to an online audience, it has, frankly, been a hard task to condense a lot of information into short posts in a way that engages people. The real reward for most summer science communication interns at Trout Lake is seeing people excited and engaged about our research at the annual open house. But we can’t exactly invite 300+ people over these days.

A photo of the mobile scavenger hunt Cassie developed this summer.

That’s a shame, because there is no better way to learn about something than to have it right in front of you and see it first-hand. The end result is that I have been presented with a more daunting, but very exciting task of creating a virtual setting for our open house, a mobile app scavenger hunt that gives people a chance to visit locations where research is being conducted as a fun way to show them what is currently happening on and around Trout Lake Station.

I virtually interviewed multiple researchers at Trout Lake Station to learn about their projects and track down pictures of them in the field. I wrote out simple summaries of each project, with only the most essential scientific words included, and made sure I knew its take-home message. I had to get creative to decide which information from that summary could be made into interactive questions or activities, and what was better off in short informational blurbs.

Slowly these parts were added into the app software, along with pictures and figures where I could fit them, to turn into a short exhibit of the project. As best as I could, I placed these exhibits at the lakes where the project research is being conducted. I added pictures of plants and animals at each of the six locations within the scavenger hunt to include along the way.

This process was hard, as I had to learn so many new things. Before talking with scientists on station I didn’t know that bass and bluegill belonged to the same family of fish or what a high phosphorus level in a lake was and why it was important to monitor. I even found out that a common plant in bogs shares a name with me! However, even though it was hard, it feels good to know that I have learned so much, and I am excited to share all that I have learned with you.

Right now, as I am sitting at North Trout Lake thinking about my work, I am not sure what to expect, but I know that my work here this summer will only help to improve the experience for what we hope is many, many interested “visitors” – even if they are all virtual, I hope that it helps connect people to these lakes that have been such a big part of my life.


You can go on Cassie’s awesome virtual scavenger hunt by clicking here.