Science, Leadership and Adventure: Firsthand DESLA Experiences

The Drexel Environmental Science Leadership Academy (DESLA) is one part outdoor adventure, one part leadership training and two parts field experience. With Drexel professors from the department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science and our own expert scientists at the Academy, high school students can gain hands-on field experience and memories that last a lifetime. To learn more, we checked in with some previous DESLA students.

Which DESLA experience did you choose and why? 

Habibata Sylla: I had the life changing opportunity to attend DESLA in Lacawac Sanctuary and Field Station for a week-long environmental field experience. I describe this opportunity as life changing because my experiences there finalized my decision to pursue environmental science as a career.  

Maiya Mangum: I chose to go to DESLA Barnegat Bay because I wasn’t sure of what the experience would entail but I wanted to try something new during the summer.  

Arianna Alfaro: I went to DESLA’s Bighorn Basin Paleontological Institute in Montana. I knew almost nothing about it, but it sounded interesting. I’m from Philly and all I’ve ever truly known is “the big city life.” So going to Montana was just a different world. 

What was it like? 

Habibata Sylla: The scientists were very supportive and enthusiastic about everything that was being taught and I appreciate that because that was translated to an increased interest for me. There were also a lot of first times for me on this trip, such as canoeing at night, navigating through water with a compass, and collecting fish samples by electroshock and seine net. 

Maiya Magnum: Some of the scientists I was able to work with were Dr. Michelle from the Academy and Dane from Drexel. Also, throughout the week I was able to interact with many other scientists like Dr. Watson’s team and those from the Academy. My favorite part was how close I became to the people I experienced DESLA with. We all came from different areas but we had a common interest in pursuing and learning more about science. Also, one of our free time experiences where we learned a line dance and did it together as a group.

Arianna Alfaro: The whole experience was surreal. The cabins the group of teens and I stayed in were in a relatively remote area. Everything around me was filled with greenery and silence unless it came from some type of animal. A sight I can’t get out of my mind is the first night spent by a fire. I looked up and saw a clear sky. I could see constellations and shooting stars. Although digging for dinosaur fossils was great, the best part had to be that night sky. 

two young scientists canoeing

What did you gain from this experience? 

Habibata Sylla: The biggest influence was the field work because it really changed my perspective on nature. For example, before I would look at a tree and just think about the oxygen it releases instead of the carbon it holds and I never considered the worth of it prior to doing tests and calculations in the woods. Another one was water testing, I would just look at a lake as a body of water but now I think about the different aspects such as turbidity, chlorophyll levels and lake turnover and it all becomes a lively system.   

Maiya Mangum: This experience impacted me as a person because I was able to form friendships with people that I probably wouldn’t have gotten the chance to meet if it wasn’t for this interaction. This experience impacted me as a student because I was able to learn more about the area of the Pine Barrens, learn new terms from my peers and my mentors, and be able to gain hands-on experience. I think because of this experience I was able to grow as a person and a student. 

Arianna Alfaro: It was the perfect opportunity to learn more about this kind of work. I gained experience working in a prep lab and working with scientists in the field. And it helped create a career interest and direction in finding paleo programs when I was visiting colleges. 

What would you tell someone who is considering applying to this program? 

Habibata Sylla: The thing is, out there nobody forces you to do anything and pay attention. It was up to me to provide my own motivation and I liked that. It’s more independent than anything I’ve done before because it’s not in school nor was it with a program with people that I knew already.  It really felt like being in the field and I’m grateful I had this opportunity. 

Maiya Mangum: You never know what will come out of it. Going into this experience I was hesitant because it was out of my comfort zone but I think it is important to try something new because you gain a lot of insight. I think DESLA gave me a new perspective on having more hands-on experience of what it can be like to be a scientist and collaborate with others. 

Arianna Alfaro: My thoughts throughout this trip could be summarized as just the word “wow.” I’d say it was one of the best experiences I’ve had with no exaggeration. I would recommend it to anyone. 

This summer adventure awaits, so apply now!

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