Nearly three million people visit the wilds of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming every year. Recent graduate Liz Haley ’23, a psychology and sustainability double major, served this summer as a social science intern at the park. The data she gathered will influence how the park balances the visitor experience with the preservation of the natural environment.
During her paid internship, Haley was responsible for calibrating counters that kept track of the number of people who utilized specific areas of the park. She also gathered data from surveys she conducted. The information she gathered will inform park administrators about where to create more trails, limit trails use, and other decisions vital to the park’s overall conservation efforts.
Haley talked to visitors about lighting in the park’s largest campground and learned that they also want their comfort and safety balanced with what is best for the wildlife. Haley also monitored the number or boats on Jackson Lake. Boats can carry invasive species like zebra mussels, so a better understanding of the number of vessels on the lake can help rangers manage the risks.
Haley says her Geneseo science communication and environmental psychology classes helped her get the position at the national park through the American Conservation Experience and National Park Service Academy.
“I got to use R Statistical Programming and GIS to analyze data, which I learned at Geneseo,” she said. “At Geneseo, I also built surveys in psychology, and learned how to word questions so they are not leading and gain information without interjecting my own views. All of my professors really encouraged us to look at things from different angles, as well.”
An avid hiker and backpacker, Haley lived in the park with other interns, with the trails and backcountry outside her door. “It was incredible,” she said. “I loved living in a new ecosystem. There were also animals I’d never heard of, like the sage grouse, which surprised me when I first saw it—it’s sort of like a mountain chicken.”
Haley has been offered a full-time seasonal position as a research assistant at Grand Teton next summer.
“I learned so much at the park. I’ve created a better connection with the land and understand how it works,” Haley said. “Social science is a growing area in the parks systems. It’s essential to the national parks mission to protect natural, historic, and cultural resources for the enjoyment of future generations.”