Alyssa Anderson holds up a sample collected in a stream between Elk Lake and Lake Itasca. Photo credit: Hailey Sauer

The White Earth & Itasca (WE&I) is a paid three-week scientific field study internship that pairs a White Earth area high school student with a University of Minnesota graduate student at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories.

Alyssa Anderson, the 2021 WE&I intern and now a 2021 at Waubun High School, worked with Hailey Sauer learning about limnology through scientific study this summer. Sauer is a graduate student with Trinity Hamilton, an associate professor in Plant and Microbial Biology.

Sauer and Anderson set up a controlled experiment looking at how nutrients moved through a stream between Elk Lake and Lake Itasca. They aimed to identify where algal blooms occur and determine what nutrients limited the growth of bacteria and algae.

The duo spent time both in the field setting up experiments and collecting samples, but also in the lab. Anderson learned how to identify specimens in a microscope and extract chlorophyll levels, which can help predict algal blooms.

“The internship experience tapped into skillsets I didn’t realize I had. Before I was wary about my ability to ‘do science,’ but the opportunity showed me that I could,” said Anderson. “It allowed me to leverage what I learned in high school biology courses in a novel setting.”  

For Sauer, mentoring a student through their first research experiences was rewarding and confidence boosting. “As an early-career scientist, the process of guiding another entry-level scientist through the early stages of research was powerful,” says Sauer.

As part of the experience, Anderson’s high school science teacher and immediate family came to tour the station and visit with Aly and Hailey about their work.  The group looked at samples, talked about the experiment and took a tour of the station. 

The WE&I program focuses on meaningful collaboration between the station and local high schools in the White Earth Community. “The final year of high school for a student in this region is pivotal as they begin to take their next steps. Our program helps them see that those next steps can take them in an important direction with purpose, as well as joy,” IBSL Director Schilling says. — Rebecca Dallinger 

About the program | The program is currently funded by a generous donation in the American Indian Fund in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota. Rebecca Dallinger is the local project liaison. To learn more about the program and support students, contact John Curry at 612-624-4770 or

About the article | This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 edition of Upstream, a biannual publication by Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories.