Meet Summer Ecology Intern Madison Suttman

This week we’ll hear from Madison Suttman, our summer intern who is supported by a grant from the Col. Robert Morse Foundation. The grant supports a full summer of daily encounters with day campers at the Stateline Boys and Girls Club (SBGC) here in Beloit. We aren’t able to do much of the summer programming we planned for Welty at Big Hill Park, so we are happy to be able to partner with SBGC.  Both Madison and Kerry Randazzo are working with youth (and trained in their Covid-19 protocols) at their facility, and on field trips to area parks, which helps the Club with some of their summer academic goals.

I first became involved with the Welty Center two years ago, when I volunteered at the Kelly Creek Stream Monitoring and the Streams and Dams events. I spent the next year abroad, but reconnected last fall when I worked as an intern for after-school programming at Todd, Fruzen, and McNeel schools. Now, I have a position as a summer ecology intern where I develop and present programming for SBGC. 

This week I began sharing some of my favorite environmental programming with my students on the topics of animals and insects. Growing up in rural Illinois, I was always looking for new and exciting critters to carry home and show my parents, who weren’t quite as fond of them as I was. Some of my personal favorites are catching garter snakes from the garden, watching a pool full of tadpoles transform into frogs, and hatching baby walking sticks from eggs.

(Above: A hungry, hungry monarch caterpillar devours a milkweed leaf)

Raising monarchs is one of my absolute favorite projects

I was surprised during my first week when asked the kids to take a seat in the grass and one said, “You want us to sit in the grass? With the bugs…” I thought to myself, “We have a lot to learn in the next few weeks.” Now, it’s nearly six weeks later and they’re rambling off facts about insects and asking to touch the monarch caterpillars.

Recently, we’ve been implementing more inquiry-based learning, so I try to gauge the students’ interest in topics and form discussions or mold activities to match that interest. I find it particularly important to include hands-on learning methods, which is why I’m so excited about this week’s programming. I’m bringing in live turtles, caterpillars, and tadpoles, but also non-living supplies like bird nests and insect collections that allow the kids to directly interact with these organisms and elements of their habitat. On the other hand, the crafts and games we play encourage indirect learning by reinforcing the concepts we’ve already discussed.

…since it brings up topics of habitats, food webs, migration, and metamorphosis.

Raising monarchs is one of my absolute favorite projects, since it brings up topics of habitats, food webs, migration, and metamorphosis. Additionally, we get to see every stage of the life cycle, from egg to butterfly, which takes about 30 days to complete. Did you know that chrysalises become transparent and develop some golden color just before the butterflies hatch? Another interesting feature about monarch butterflies is that males and females have a slight variation in pattern, enabling us to tell them apart. The males have two dots, one on either of their bottom wings along the vein lines, whereas the females don’t. I can’t wait to release our butterflies once they emerge from their chrysalises! In the meantime, check out this video of our caterpillar munching away on milkweed, that I shared with the kids this week (above).

Madison SuttmanMadison Suttman
Summer Ecology Intern, WEC