Navigation Menu+

Can You Dig It?

Posted on December 11, 2012 by in The OFI Blog

Niko Schultz Collecting Ants in Peru

Niko Schultz Collecting Ants in Peru

Niko Schultz is a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School; she is currently completing a year-long internship at the National Museum of Natural History as part of a science and technology program offered at her school. She writes about her Smithsonian internship experience here…

My dad, Ted Schultz, started his job as a research entomologist at theNational Museum of Natural History when I was just six months old. When I was two, my parents enrolled me in the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, or SEEC as it’s commonly known. Every day I would ride the Metro downtown with my dad, and when I wasn’t at SEEC he would take me around the museum, which I loved…

In ninth grade, I applied and was accepted into in the science and technology program at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland. All students in the program do a research practicum project their senior year. The science and tech program has an internship program for some of the top students in which seniors can do their projects at labs with mentors to experience what it’s like to be a scientist. I applied for the program and was accepted, and I thought I would work at one of the regular sites like the University of Maryland or USDA. When the coordinator said we were allowed to find our own mentors, however, it occurred to me that I could intern at the Natural History Museum.

Now every day at noon, I leave school and take the Metro to one of DC’s most famous landmarks. Working as an intern at the museum is a dream come true. I’m doing a project on cryptic speciation in the fungus-growing ant species Cyphomyrmex muelleri, which I think is incredibly fascinating. I’m trying to find out if C. muelleri is one species or if there are actually multiple cryptic species. If I discover a new ant species, I may even be able to help describe it! I’m learning all kinds of new skills, like sequencing DNA, measuring ant specimens, and using statistical and mapping software. I also love working at the Natural History Museum because the people here are really wonderful and diverse. I’m meeting people from all over the world, from Colombia to Croatia to Belgium, and they all study amazing topics like butterflies and fossils. I love how international entomology is. I went to Peru last summer on a field-collecting trip with my dad and some of his colleagues. We participated in a Spanish-language ant course and collected ants in the Peruvian rain forest. It was an amazing opportunity to meet entomologists from all around Latin America, practice my Spanish, and learn all about ant diversity, morphology, and collecting.

I feel so fortunate to have such a rewarding internship, and I hope that other students from my school will have the opportunity to work at the Smithsonian in the future.