Maya Tainatongo: Down to Earth

Oct. 7, 2022
An up-close picture of Maya gazing to the side of the camera. She is standing on a desert trail in Ariozna which cacti in the background.

What year are you and what is your major?

I am a senior at the University of Arizona and I am double majoring in Natural Resources with an emphasis in Wildlife Conservation and Anthropology. I also am pursuing a minor in Spanish. I chose these studies because I love to learn about how we handle natural resources and wildlife issues in the present day in comparison to centuries ago. It is very interesting to see how management strategies have changed. For example, the perception of nature for most people today is ‘how much can we gain from nature?’ whereas Indigineous groups have thought of nature as part of their community for hundreds of years.

How have you been involved in the environmental world? 

Well, I have completed many internships that revolve around environmental science. My two most recent internships were through the University of Arizona’s Bio/Diversity Projectand the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The three internships I have now are for the Saguaro National Park, the Sierra Club Borderlands, and Flowers & Bullets Midtown Farm. I am involved with Sierra Club and Flowers & Bullets through the University of Arizona educational initiative Earth Grant. I honestly could never pick a favorite between them; I’ve gained such a diverse set of skills and experiences from each.

Can you describe what you do as an intern for Saguaro National Park? 

I am a Next Generation Intern and biological technician for the park. This means that part of my job is to promote engagement opportunities at Saguaro National Park to students as well as job openings in the Saguaro National Park service. I am also involved with environmental education outreach for the park. When students come to the park, I teach them specifically about the Sonoran Desert and environmental processes happening in Tucson.

How would you describe Earth Grant and how did you become involved?

Earth Grant is a really good opportunity for students to get an idea of different fields they might be interested in. It is an amazing program because students are getting hands-on experience. Every Friday we have a class which makes the Earth Grant cohort feel more like a little community. I have gotten pretty close with people in my cohort. We are a tight knit group that cares about the same types of issues in inclusion, diversity, and environmental sustainability. My favorite part of being an Earth Grant student are the connections I am able to make through our University mentor, cohort friendships, and all the people I work with. I am really surrounded by a lot of great people because of Earth Grant.

What has been your favorite environment-related experience?

This summer I lived in Colorado and interned at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. I conducted my own research project and hiked in the mountains every day. It was great to enjoy a cool summer and awesome to work on my own research project! I specialized in stream ecology and aquatic insect research to study how they related to food webs in alpine streams. For my final project as an intern I wrote a paper and presented a slidedeck. My goals for the future are to get my research paper published and take my presentation to a conference. 

What advice would you give current and future UArizona students who want to get involved with environmental issues and activism?

I would say to stay close with the environmental community and keep an eye out for opportunities coming up through emails or professors talking about volunteering, interning, and other projects outside of school. Remember to keep applying for new things every semester because you build connections with people in the environmental world! This leads to more opportunities in your areas of interest and gives you people to turn to for advice.