The Paulson Ecology of Place Initiative, which was established through a generous and visionary gift from Wendy Judge Paulson '69 in 2016, inspires Wellesley students across disciplines to engage with their natural environment, particularly on the College campus, and prepares them to become change agents who might one day cultivate sustainable landscapes and communities around the globe.

Through the initiative, which is led by Director Suzanne Langridge, student interns take part in interdisciplinary science research using the campus as a living laboratory. Below, two of this year’s interns, Annie Zhang ’25 and Katie Knight ’25, talk about their experiences and the presentations they gave about them at the Tanner Conference on November 15, 2022. Zhang, from Sunnyvale, Calif., is an economics major and a prospective environmental studies minor, and Knight is a Spanish major and biology minor from Portage, Mich.

What was a highlight from your work with the Paulson Ecology of Place Initiative last summer?

Annie Zhang: One of my most memorable experiences was getting to see a black widow spider up close. While we were looking for insects (for biodiversity monitoring), one of my coworkers flipped over a log to reveal a female black widow standing guard over her three egg sacs. Although it was a little alarming at the time, I’m glad I had the opportunity to see such a famous spider in the wild!

What was your individual project focused on?

Zhang: I interned with Grassroots Ecology, a nonprofit organization that focuses on habitat restoration and community engagement with nature throughout the California Bay Area. The internship was a great opportunity to connect with my home landscape in California and learn more about the environmental field.

Why is it so important to develop a connection to the land and its history?

Katie Knight: I think that in our modern world, we’ve separated ourselves from nature to the extent that people don’t even view themselves as a part of it. When you take the time to slow down and connect to the earth, you can soak in the wisdom it has to offer. Take the seasons, for example. The earth isn’t in a constant state of production: the quiet sleep of winter is just as necessary as the abundance of summer. In the same way, we humans shouldn’t be working all the time. We need rest.

At the Tanner Conference (established through the generosity of Wellesley College trustee emerita Estelle “Nicki” Newman Tanner ’57), you reflected on your experiences and shared insights with peers. What do you hope people took away from your presentation?

Zhang: I hope that others were able to get a sense of the many different summer opportunities available to them as Wellesley students. In particular, I felt it was important to talk about my process of applying for summer internships because it might help my peers get started with making their own summer plans.

Knight: I hope that from my Tanner presentation, my peers were inspired to take a break in whatever way they need to feel restored and at peace.

What is your go-to dining hall meal?

Zhang: I like to use food from the dining hall as ingredients for my own cooking—recently I’ve been really into making salad bowls with fall vegetables! My favorite so far has been a warm kale salad with roasted sweet potatoes, chicken, green apples, and homemade honey mustard dressing.

Knight: I love the fried rice at Lulu, I could honestly eat it every day.

Where is your favorite spot to study at Wellesley?

Zhang: Mine has to be the tables in Clapp Library that look over the lake. It’s nice and quiet, and I can enjoy the gorgeous lake views on my study breaks.

Knight: I like studying in the Jewett Sculpture court. There are big windows so I can see trees outside and beautiful art pieces made by students.

What is the most Instagram-able place on campus?

Zhang: The Wellesley campus is so beautiful that it’s hard to pick one place, but my favorite spot for photos is definitely the green door at the side entrance of Founders. When the lighting is good, it’s my go-to for portraits—my friends and I even took our Flower Sunday photos there this year!

Knight: The arboretum, because of all the wildlife there. I’ve seen deer, muskrats, owls, and so many other cool creatures.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Paulson Ecology of Place Initiative, subscribe to the Blue Heron Quarterly.