Important Bird Area Project Provides Learning Opportunity for MCC Students

Posted on June 26, 2012 by Sally Mesarosh

Important Bird AreasImportant Bird Areas

Mesa Community College students enrolled in the Geographic Information Systems program are gaining real world experience through internships with Audubon Arizona. This unique partnership began in fall 2008, when Tice Supplee, Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon Arizona, approached Karen Blevins, a Geography Faculty member at MCC, about the possibility of expanding GIS internship experiences. Tice and Karen submitted a proposal to Audubon and Toyota focusing on engaging community college students in GIS and were accepted.

Twelve MCC students began the open-lab internship Spring Semester 2009. Since that spring more than 20 MCC students have participated in the internship and have identified 42 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Arizona. They created 84 maps, two for each IBA, showing ownership and vegetation. There are approximately 40 additional IBAs that could be identified.

“The open-lab internship fills a genuine need for Audubon Arizona while allowing students access to projects that help keep their skills current,” stated Tice Supplee. “Until they get a job it is essential to have the opportunity to use technologies that are constantly changing.”

Interns use GIS methodologies to produce digital representations of important bird areas including elevation, land ownership, and vegetation composition for the development of geo databases. In addition, students have been involved in identifying migration routes and riparian, continental or global conservation areas, vegetation percentages, land ownership, and will be soon mapping climate changes.

Lindsey Hendricks is a MCC student who is benefiting from the Audubon internship. Lindsey spends numerous hours volunteering for Audubon as well.

In 2004, Lindsey graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Conservation Biology. She enrolled at MCC in Fall 2010 to earn a GIS Analyst Certificate. She will complete her degree in December.

“The internship has allowed me to keep using the software so I don’t lose my skills. I am always practicing,” stated Lindsey.  She added, “Karen and Tice are amazing mentors and I appreciate their support. I could not have done it without them.”

Karen Blevins summarizes the benefits of the partnership, “The Audubon internship accomplishes several goals. It offers students the opportunity to work on an actual GIS project which involves further application of concepts and topics discussed in the classroom as well as hone their own ability to tackle a difficult problem. Students also are in contact with the client so they are able to experience the interactive process of proof, revision, and final product. Finally, the internship provides me the opportunity to develop and refine my own geospatial skills through project management and problem solving,”

About Arizona's Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program:

IBA has been in full flight since Jan. 2002. The Arizona IBA Program is a state IBA program, which is run as a partnership with Arizona Game and Fish Department Arizona Bird Conservation Initiative (ABCI), Tucson Audubon Society and Audubon Arizona. The IBA Program in Arizona is funded through grants and private donations.

Nationally, the IBA Programs goals include: identifying, documenting, and publicly recognizing a state's most important areas for birds; educating citizens and land managers to benefit birds and their habitats; and partnering with others to support IBAs in need of conservation.

Map photo shows all of the Important Bird Areas in Arizona distinguishing between identified and potential areas.