IFinding My Niche: How Rain Forest Project is Relevant

Sheila Samuelson

Iowa City Press-Citizen Letters

July 30, 2004

My small town, Northeast Iowan childhood in Oelwein provided me with an enthusiasm for life, learning, culture and a longing to travel and experience the world. During the past four years I have lived in Iowa City, working hard and studying, to earn a bachelors in biological sciences. Though the course of my post-undergrad life was until recently still undecided, the thought of staying in Iowa had scarcely crossed my mind.

Then, in late January, a local newspaper headline changed my future and my life in an instant. The article told of a project that would have the power to inspire the world.

There was a feeling of certainty, purpose, excitement and several nights of very little sleep as I thought endlessly about how the Iowa Environmental/Education Project in Coralville would change Iowa and the planet. Visions of a place where visitors could explore and learn about the splendor of the Earth's natural beauty and work side by side with real scientists doing real research made my heart flutter with elation.

To assure myself that the project truly promised environmental ethics and scientific integrity, I began a dialogue with the project's administrator, David Oman, and others, and soon joined the project's Community Advisory Council. My initial impression of this diverse group of locals was their sincerity in wanting to create a facility designed to enhance the community and to benefit the world, as well as for long-term success. I quickly came to appreciate the diversity of interests present as the education, communications, art, tourism, business and science committees each shared their ideas, concerns and points of view on the project.

With there being no doubt that the Iowa Environmental/Education Project will go forth, I am more excited every day as ideas are shared and plans for the world-class learning center evolve to create a unique facility that will inspire the young as well as the educated.

The project will house not only the rain forest ecosystem and incorporate the prairie, wetlands, river and agriculture but will host the very newest and top of the line, next generation research and technological equipment. Learners around the globe will be able to access streaming data in real time and correspond with professionals within the facility. Visitors of all ages will experience a technical-natural wonder that will allow them to perceive the accessibility and relevancy of natural processes. They will interface with hand-held personal computers and view supercomputers that control the alternative energy systems and temperature, moisture and chemical composition of the soil and air.

It is my hope for the project that through powerful sensory and novel learning experiences that curious minds will begin to understand how each of our lives is an important and meaningful contribution to life at the grandest level. It will become apparent that our seemingly tiny actions play a part in the future of the gigantic Earth. As the renowned African ecologist Baba Dioum once said, "In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught."

I've come to realize that with the opportunity to work for a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote my two greatest passions, education and the environment, my future might lie in Iowa after all. To be a small part of a tremendous project that will inspire a passion for art and life, an understanding of science, a connection with the natural world, and a desire to conserve and preserve is everything I have always imagined in my "dream job." I'm incredibly proud that it happened to come along here in the Hawkeye State, where there always has been a rich tradition of education and people living off of their partnership with the land.

Reach Sheila Samuelson, a 2004 University of Iowa graduate in biological sciences, at sheila_ samuelson@hotmail.com