Freshwater’s freshest interns

by Julia Weimer

Two students in a lab
Lala and Winner in Scott Alexander’s water lab on the University of Minnesota campus.

Freshwater’s latest and youngest interns, high schoolers Winner Soe and Lala Vang, spent the summer of 2021 learning all about Minnesota groundwater with Freshwater Research and Policy Director Carrie Jennings. The Minnesota Groundwater Association helped fund this internship to give young students from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to explore the field of groundwater research and conservation and to increase awareness of potential career paths.

Winner Soe

Winner Soe is a sophomore at Humboldt High School this fall and was one of Freshwater’s summer 2021 interns. The internship was Winner’s introduction to the world of water, an area where he had little experience but lots of interest. His initial draw to the internship stemmed from growing up next to Lake Phalen in St. Paul, which prompted his curiosity of water systems, specifically how and why the hydrosphere changes over time and how lakes like Phalen form naturally.

Because of Winner’s interest in the lake, it became a significant focus of his summer research with Freshwater. He had a chance to analyze the presence of rainbow darter fish in the lake, learn about the history and importance of the lake in the Mississippi River system, and interpret maps to locate Phalen Creek and other groundwater sources.

Student in canoe giving thumbs up
Winner sampling Lake Phalen.

A highlight for him and his fellow intern Lala was a trip to a University of Minnesota laboratory to test the chemical composition of water samples they each collected from their chosen sources (photo at the top of the page).

Winner hopes to have a career as a teacher someday and to bring some of the valuable things he learned during his summer as a Freshwater intern into his future classroom to pass on to younger generations.

Cisliams Vang (Lala)

While Winner gravitated toward lake water and took his sample from Lake Phalen, Lala gravitated toward learning about rural well water. During the COVID lockdown, she lived with her grandmother in Afton Township and brought St. Paul water with her because they preferred it—and they worried about the well water on the rural property. This experience shaped the questions she had about groundwater.

She took her samples from wells on the properties of her grandmother and her neighbor in Afton, aiming to inspect the compositional differences between the two and hypothesize why those differences might be present. Her work included research into the taste, feel, and smell of well water, well construction, water softening, and other concerns of private well owners.

At the end of her internship, Lala was looking forward to an in-person senior year at Johnson High School. Her favorite subjects in school are math and science, but through some PSOE classes she has taken she discovered an interest photography. This has gotten her outside more and really appreciating the outdoors.

Lala is college-bound and is now reviewing her options. A private tour of Macalester’s campus during the internship helped that school rise to the top of her list.

Young woman and man standing outside
Lala and her private Macalester tour guide, geology senior Sun.

Freshwater’s youngest interns wrapped up their 10-week experience with a trip to a drinking water plant in St. Paul to meet Freshwater staff and learn about local drinking water treatment procedures. Lala and Winner will have the opportunity to attend the Minnesota Groundwater Association’s fall conference to meet professionals and report on their experience.

Group of people outside in masks
Freshwater staff and interns gathered for a tour of a water treatment plant.

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