Paul Helfrich is a three-year starter on the Montana Western Bulldog football team, a two-time academic all-conference recipient and a Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete. His interest in ecology stems from his childhood, growing up in places including northern Alaska and Wyoming, where Yellowstone National Park was his backyard. Helfrich is also passionate about conservation due to his father’s career with the National Park Service for 30 years.
Helfrich contacted Beth Darrow, head of research at Bald Head Island Conservancy and Senior Scientist at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, when considering internship opportunities. Darrow specializes in benthic-pelagic processes in estuaries, including nutrient cycling and ecosystem metabolism. Helfrich is interested in these studies and hopes to further his education in graduate school.
Helfrich had previously visited the island several times during summer vacations and was fascinated by the ecosystem. He spent a total of four weeks interning for BHIC, while working five days each week. He had a variety of jobs, most including data collection on ongoing water quality surveys that BHIC conducts in partnership with NC State in North Carolina.
Helfrich gained experience through a variety of scientific, hands-on procedures where he was able to collect data on both animals and water.
“They took it upon themselves to teach me what it is like to be a scientist, and that is what Experience One is all about,” said Helfrich.
At Montana Western, students take a single course at a time, three hours each day for 18 days before moving on to the next course. This unique approach to class scheduling, known as Experience One, allows for a more immersive education.
Helfrich has snorkeled in Utah during his coral reef ecology class, assisted in the cloning of a Borrelia burgdorferi gene while also participating in numerous research studies regarding water quality.
“A lot of people learn about this in lecture, but I’ve done it. All of the professors in the biology and ecology departments have really focused their classes on hands-on experience. I feel more ready for grad school than I ever thought I would,” said Helfrich while reflecting on his internship.
Helfrich will be graduating in spring 2020 with a degree in Fish and Wildlife Ecology. Afterwards, he plans on attending graduate school and later working in conservation and marine ecology.
To learn more about Montana Western’s block scheduling system, please visit the Experience One webpage.