Rachel Heitmann, Friend of Planet Earth

Hometown: Hebron, Nebraska

Majors: Environmental Studies major, Spanish minor

Internship title and organization:

Summer intern for ‘The Land Institute’ in Salina, Kansas

What were your responsibilities during your internship? 

It’s very hard to pin down exactly what my responsibilities were since they varied so much throughout the summer. My fellow interns and I worked on projects ranging from harvesting Kernza © in plots all around ‘The Land Institute,’ to hoeing weeds in a field all day, to planting hundreds of varieties of legume seeds. Each day was a promise of hard work towards the goal of sustainable, perennial polyculture. Improving agriculture comes in many forms, and my summer at ‘The Land Institute’ gave me a taste of lots of different ways of approaching agriculture from a sustainable viewpoint.

Rachel Heitmann’s internship took her out into the fields in the heart of Kansas. Rachel is far left, wearing a Jayhawk hat.
What was your favorite part(s) of the internship? 

I loved that every morning when I went in I knew I would be working hard all day for a cause I believed in. Farming is so important, and using perennial crops has the potential to be a real solution to the issues we face in agriculture today—as an intern, I could be a part of this progress. Not only was I working towards such an incredible goal, but I also got to do this in the heart of Kansas alongside some terrific friends and fellow interns.

What did you gain from the experience that will be valuable to you in the future? 

I did gain lots of practical knowledge from my experience, but the most beneficial thing that I will take away by far is understanding the value of a day’s hard work. 6 AM starts and frequent triple digit temperatures made for very challenging circumstances at times, but they were more than worth it.

What do you plan to do next?

At this point, I can’t say I know what I will be doing a few years from now, but I do know that I am very much looking forward to the rest of my time at KU.

I have confidence that my education here is preparing me for something great, whatever that may be.

What do you like best about studying in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at KU?

I love that I am getting a taste of many different parts of what KU has to offer. From chemistry to environmental policy and analysis, the courses that I have taken in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences have shown me the importance of exploring the different corners of academia.

Why did you choose your majors/minors?

From a young age, I have known that protecting our Earth is very important, and this belief has only been reinforced as I have gone through college.

“I chose environmental studies because it allows me to learn about how we can protect many different aspects of the environment through an interdisciplinary approach.”

Studying environmental studies, I can get have a solid baseline education in the sciences as well as the arts, and it all ties together for a better understanding of the environment.

I have taken Spanish classes nearly every year since junior high, and with this foundation, it made a lot of sense to continue to the Spanish minor. I have always wanted to be fluent in a second language, and this is my chance. I am studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain in the spring semester, and I’m excited at the opportunity to put my skills to a practical use.

What would you tell your freshman self?

Relax! You truly don’t need to have it all figured out right now. I’d also tell myself to get out of my shell sooner and to appreciate the small joys of each day rather than worrying so much.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. She has been a part of my life in so many ways! St. Kateri is the patroness of the environment, and she is a role model for me in a variety of ways. My Catholic Faith is my number one priority, and St. Kateri inspires me through the gift of her life to God as well as through her advocacy for the environment and her courage. She was also known for her sense of humor, which serves as inspiration to go through life joyfully.