DUBOIS – A national memorial for those who lost their lives in the crash of Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, is continuing to develop near Shanksville; and students in the Penn State DuBois Wildlife Technology program are among those working to foster the memorial’s growth.
“Our partnership with the memorial started by assisting with the annual reforestation project at the site. In 2013, five faculty [members] from Penn State DuBois and Altoona accompanied over 30 students from the two campuses to plant trees on the property. In planning meetings, we discovered that the site required an assessment of invasive plant species on the property and it seemed like a natural fit as an internship for some of our students in the wildlife program,” explained Keely Roen, senior instructor of Wildlife Technology at Penn State DuBois.
Through an internship program, three students were chosen to work directly with the National Park Service (NPS), at the Flight 93 Memorial site. They conducted a survey on the memorial property that surrounds the crash site to identify invasive and noxious specifies of plant life. They then provided GPS coordinates for the locations of the plants they found. Those students, Mandy Marconi, Alyssa Knee and Toby Neal, were selected and advised by Roen.
Marconi had significant experience with invasive species surveys through an internship the previous summer and served as a team leader to the crew of three. In all, the team found seven invasive species on the 120 acre survey area. They then recommended action plans the NPS can take to eradicate the species.
“The Penn State DuBois inventory will be utilized as the base survey to plan future invasive removals at the park,” explained Keith Newlin, deputy superintendent of Western Pennsylvania Parks with the NPS. “An inventory is necessary to successfully plan an invasive removal event at the park. We hope to plan an invasive removal in 2014.”
“These species don’t belong in this environment. They displace the natives, growing where natives would grow,” Roen explained. She noted that these species may take root in a foreign environment by accident or because they’ve been introduced by humans. ”They take over and change the character of the area,” she said.
Among the invasive plants identified were autumn olive, multiflora rose, Canada thistle and more.
By completing the survey, the students provided a tremendously valuable service to the NPS and to this national memorial. However, they also found enormous benefits for their education by gaining extensive hands-on experience.
“It allows them to apply some of the knowledge they have gained in the Wildlife Technology Program in a real-world situation,” Roen explained. “These students will have the opportunity to go into careers where they are doing surveys and field work that is exactly like the work they did in this internship.”
“Academically, this internship provided real-life field experience, but more importantly it demonstrated the importance of people coming together for a common good,” Marconi said, noting the significance of the Flight 93 Memorial. For Marconi and her fellow students, the chance to contribute to the memorial was a high honor.
“There are few things in life that leave you without words to describe an experience or an emotion, and my internship at Flight 93 was one of those great moments,” Marconi continued. “I recognized that this was a once in a lifetime experience and I did not take it for granted. There is something very spiritual about Flight 93 that will carry with me far into the future. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of a great partnership that Mrs. Roen developed between Penn State and Flight 93.”
Neal found satisfaction in making contributions that will have a lasting impact. He said, “I was very happy to be able to assist by collecting data and spending time in the field. Being near the crash site was sobering. I was impressed to see how many visitors came to pay their respects and learn more about the events of one of the saddest days in American History. I am thankful to the park for allowing us to become a part of the project to make the park a little better for future visitors.”
Those sentiments were not lost on Knee, who looks forward to seeing a completed park on the site, and knowing she was part of what made it possible. “It was such an honor to be able to help and I am so glad that we were able to provide them with some information that can help the park look incredible,” she said. “I can’t wait to see what the park will look like years from now when they finally have it all done. I do have to say that this internship meant a lot to me. For those who were on flight 93, that park has become their final resting ground and they deserve to have a beautiful place to rest. That park should be an amazing place where their families can go to remember the loved one that they lost.”