Joelyn de Lima: Visiting home

Joelyn de Lima is a recent graduate from MSU, working with Dr. Tammy Long in the Department of Plant Biology. She is currently based in Switzerland, and in spring 2021 was appointed as a virtual visiting scholar with the Kellogg Biological Station Long-Term Ecological Research Program (KBS LTER). Joelyn worked with Kara Haas and the K-12 Partnership team to support and create professional development programming for teachers and Education & Outreach graduate student fellows. To get in touch with Joelyn, you can email her at or follow her on social media @joelyndelima!

For me, being a visiting researcher at KBS was like visiting home. In addition to having a professional connection to KBS, I have a deeply personal connection as well. My husband was a graduate student here, and so this was where I came after we got married in 2012. I developed a bond with every corner and every facet of KBS. Due to laws relating to immigration, I could not legally get a job or enrol in courses, so I spent two years volunteering. I tried to fill in as many roles as I could – I was a teacher-in-residence for the GK-12 program, a docent at the Kellogg Manor House, a tour guide at the dairy farm, an educator at the KBS LTER, and a bookstore clerk at the Bird Sanctuary, to name just a few.

Before Joelyn left for Switzerland she spent a few days at KBS and was able to connect with Education & Outreach Fellows Kyle and Elizeth for a socially distanced photo!

After a few years away, I came back to MSU as a graduate student myself. My research focussed on undergraduate biology education. I explored how simple changes to context can change the way students think about and represent evolutionary biology. Something as simple as changing a species in the question, or asking students to construct a model instead of writing an essay, can elicit very different reasoning from students. During this time I completed a graduate certification program in Community Engagement. The main product for this certification was a portfolio in which I wrote about my work on the development and evolution of the Agriculture and Ecology trail, a field trip for elementary students to learn about sustainable agriculture research generally through stories and activities connected to the research of the KBS LTER. 

As I came closer to graduation, and I knew I would be moving away from America, I started wondering how I could continue to keep my relationship with KBS and KBS’ers. The COVID pandemic brought a virtual opportunity which I could not resist – being a visiting scholar at KBS. 

In this role, I was a mentor to the Education & Outreach fellows, and with them worked to best serve the learning needs of the teachers in the K-12 partnership. While we could carry forward some of our principles from in-person outreach, we had to adapt our activities to suit the new needs of our virtual audiences. In spite of the pandemic, and all the restrictions that came along with it, teachers still wanted to have spaces and opportunities to continue to learn and to connect. We wanted to focus on learning, while making sure we allowed for moments that sparked fun, joy, and inspiration. A few programs that I spearheaded include a Climate Science Series, Teaching about Climate Change through a Lens of Equity, KBS K-12 Partnership Summer Institute 2021 Art + Science, ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ Book Study, and Building Cultural Connections in the Classroom virtual series. 

Kara presenting to teachers at the K-12 Partnership Summer Institute, held virtually in 2020.

In addition to the new relationships that I developed (with the graduate fellows and the teachers), being a visiting scholar brought about an evolution of prior relationships. When I first met Kara Hass, the K-12 Partnership Coordinator, we immediately clicked and became friends. Kara and I share a deep interest in place-based education and believe that students truly benefit when we teach them scientific concepts in contexts that they can relate to. As our relationship has evolved, our conversations have also evolved. They have expanded in scope and have taken on new dimensions. While we still talk about our families and frustrations (!), now we also talk about learning frameworks and coding logistics. 

To me, KBS is the land that became home, and KBS’ers, the people who became family. These are relationships that I truly treasure – and look forward to continuing developing them.