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Internship Brings Ramapo College Students Back ‘Home’ To Nature

Ramapo College students James O’Neill and Liam Hickey are interning at the New Weis Center for Education, Arts & Recreation in Ringwood.
Ramapo College students James O’Neill and Liam Hickey are interning at the New Weis Center for Education, Arts & Recreation in Ringwood. Photo Credit: Lauren Kidd Ferguson
Intern Kristen Jajko, former intern John Curnyn, and interns Liam Hickey and Kyle Fedele stand together on the Weis property in Ringwood.
Intern Kristen Jajko, former intern John Curnyn, and interns Liam Hickey and Kyle Fedele stand together on the Weis property in Ringwood. Photo Credit: Lauren Kidd Ferguson

MAHWAH, N.J. – A pair of students at Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah have scored their ideal internships.

But, Liam Hickey of Dumont and James O’Neill of Glen Rock aren’t wearing suits and ties, or even working in offices.

Instead, they are spending their days in the woods in Ringwood – in jeans and hiking boots.

“I love being in the forest. The element here really feels like home for me,” said O’Neill, a senior environmental studies major.

O’Neill and Hickey, a junior environmental science major, are the latest students to be awarded the May H. Weis Environmental Award at Ramapo. Weis’ son started the program in memory of his mother who along with his father Walter established a nature center in Ringwood.

The center is now the New Weis Center for Education, Arts & Recreation. And the award means that O’Neill and Hickey each earn a stipend for a year of service and paid tuition for a semester.

They also get to learn from environmental experts, such as a man who spent decades as a forest ranger.

“It was great to be able to walk out onto our property with him, and he could just tell me so much about the area,” said Hickey, who leads guided hikes at Weis as part of his internship. “It is the little things that really stick with you that I can pass onto other people as well. I try to pass on the information I learn from him on my guided hikes.”

Hickey said he used some of what he learned to create a special signs of fall walk. In addition to running the hikes, Hickey and O’Neill also serve as educators for field trips, summer camp and other special programs and are creating programming for a new winter break camp.

“There is a lot of energy and new ideas in this age group. That is important,” said Jon Berry, president of the Highlands Nature Friends Board of Trustees, which operates the center.

Board Trustee Anne Moore Siebecker said the interns are “crucial” to Weis, and the program “is our way to kind of encourage and nurture the next generation of people who are already interested in … nature, sustainability, the environment, ecology.”

Weis also has additional unpaid interns, such as Kristen Jajko who focuses on communications and outreach, Kyle Fedele who focuses on gardening and grounds-work and Sumit Sanghani. The center is always looking for more volunteers and interns. For more information email Anne Moore Siebecker at amsrose@aol.com.

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