Summer Wilke is from Westville, Oklahoma, and she hadn’t considered going out of state for college until she was offered an ECAP scholarship. “My mom was in tears,” she said.
As a civil engineering student, Summer has taken part in two environmentally-focused research projects. The summer after her first year, she participated in the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program, studying stream preservation. The following summer, she built on this experience to take on more of a leadership role in an experiment involving an algal turf scrubber. Algae is a very useful crop, because it can clean nitrogen and phosphorus from waste water and then be harvested to produce biofuels. Summer conducted an experiment to find out how much of these chemicals the algae in the turf scrubber was able to remove, in order to see if it was a viable option for water purification.
“This project opened my eyes to the types of things I can do,” she said. “To have that exposure was really valuable.” Summer would like to continue with this research, possibly doing a larger scale algae project as a graduate student.
The summer after her junior year, Summer spent ten weeks in Washington, DC through the Udall Foundation’s Native American Congressional Internships program. In DC, Summer worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in the Trust Services division, which oversees natural resources, water rights, and forestry on tribal lands. In this internship, Summer got to learn about the legal system, and got first-hand experience doing engineering for the government. She discovered that this was the kind of work she wanted to do. “I want to be in the field, solving some type of serious engineering problem. I really want to apply civil engineering to environmental problems,” she explained.
Summer is the president of the Native American Student Association at the University of Arkansas, a group she helped establish. In her spare time, she likes to read and play intramural sports.