Internship fund allows Grinnell student to explore Bali, Borneo, and beyond

November 9, 2023Destany Best ’25 always had an interest in conservation and nature, but up until this year, the Pittsburgh native had never explored those topics in the classroom or out in the field. 

A computer science and French major, Best came to Grinnell on a full scholarship to focus on STEM-related studies, after spending her high school years earning accolades for her programming skills and talents. 

Destany Best '25 with a tropical bird on her shoulder.
   Destany Best ’25 with a
   palm cockatoo

For six weeks this past summer, however, Best went abroad for the first time to study biodiversity and conservation in Bali, East Java, Nusa Penida, and Borneo. 

Her internship was funded by a $5,000 award from the Professor Andrew Hsieh Career Exploration Fund. The fund, which was established in 2019 by Maggie Bian ’09, supplements unpaid internships for Grinnell students each summer. Bian’s hope was to support internships that take place in an international venue, with first preference granted to an Asia-based experience. Best is the ninth Grinnellian to benefit from the fund.

“The internship provided me with countless opportunities to contribute to projects that had a real impact on the environment and the world around us,” says Best, who was one of 12 students, most from the U.S., who explored and learned about forests, reefs, and volcanic landscapes. 

On the Indonesia island of Nusa Penida, for example, the group worked on coral restoration. 

Destany Best ’25 hold a green ball python
   Destany holds a green ball

“We snorkeled and gathered broken coral, then secured the coral fragments to a ‘reef star’ (a star-shaped steel object anchored into the seabed) and planted those underwater,” she says. Best also completed a case study on habitat and birds that examined the impact of human-induced disturbances, including deforestation, construction, and fire. “We collected data, went bird watching for two weeks, then used that data to put together a case study to inform future habitat management practices,” Best says. 

In East Java (an Indonesian province), the group climbed Mount Ijen, an active volcano known for its stunning, sulphureous blue lake located in a volcanic crater. “We also visited national parks, and we learned about sustainability, community, and economics,” says Best, who cites a village where each person had a small plot of land for their house and crops, which they sold. In Borneo – a Southeast Asia island – the group learned about forest clearing and other harms caused by palm oil plantations, and they planted hundreds of young, new trees to reestablish cleared areas. 

Though most of their time was spent outside, there was also time in the classroom, and Best studied Bahasa Indonesia, the official language of the Indonesian archipelago.

Three birds perch on Destany Best '25
   Three birds make themselves
   at home with Destany

“I was really inspired by seeing all the sustainable practices around the world,” Best says. “In Indonesia they make plates from banana leaves, for example. I made coconut oil from scratch, and there’s absolutely no waste with coconuts. We used much of the shell to make bowls and the leftover shell to make charcoal, which we used to make dinner on the grill. I became much more aware of our wasteful tendencies here and how I’d like to be a better global citizen.”

Best’s internship, which was organized and run by SIT (School for International Training) in Vermont, did exactly what Bian envisioned when she established the Hsieh fund: it gives students a chance to explore careers and other opportunities outside of the classroom. Hsieh, who taught Chinese and Japanese history at the College while researching the social and intellectual history of late imperial China, helped establish the College’s program and partnership with Nanjing University in China. He became a professor emeritus of history in 2013.

Best’s internship was also supported by the Robert Cadmus, Jr. International Internship Fund, established by another alum in honor of an influential professor to ensure students gain leadership skills, professional networks, and intercultural learning experiences.

“It opened my eyes to new opportunities in fields I didn’t know existed,” says Best, who wants to travel and learn more languages in the future. “I really made the most of the internship because I was open to new opportunities, and I’ll continue to live with that concept in mind. It was a life-changing experience.” 

—by Anne Stein ’84

For your information

Andrew Hsieh was Maggie Bian’s professor for an East Asian History class. Read about what inspired Bian to establish the Career Exploration Fund in his name

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