Local Graduate Interning Overseas This Summer

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This summer a little bit of Mint Hill will be in Malaysia. Stephanie Dotson, a recent graduate from both Levine Middle College High School and the CPCC Early College Program, will be spending her eight-week summer working at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Malaysia.

When she was younger, Stephanie got to meet her hero, Jane Goodall.

For Dotson, this trip has been years in the making. “I have always had a passion for monkeys. I fell in love with chimpanzees and Jane Goodall when I was very young, but orangutans have sort of morphed into my favorite species of primate.” she shares. Now that she is eighteen, she finally gets to go on an internship.

In Sepilok, Dotson will have a variety of chances to interact and work with the orangutans. “The center has different schools for the orangutans. I will be working with the orphaned babies, bottle feeding them and teaching them how to play, and teaching the older ones how to forage for food.” Dotson says, “Most of the mothers have been killed. So, I will basically be teaching them how to be orangutans, because they don’t have their mothers to train them.”

However, if anyone thinks that Dotson’s whole summer is about just getting a chance to play with monkeys, they could not be more wrong. “The center is very conservation based and the focus is more about educating people on what the dangers to orangutans really are. Many of these orangutans have been abused or injured. Some have been turned into pets – being treated like people, not primates.” she explains.

Building sustainable communities is the number one goal for Sepilok. Dotson will be part of a team that will work with forest rangers doing surveys and counting the orangutan population in the area. Her team will also go out into the Malaysian communities and try to help humans understand the truth about what is happening to these primates. “The palm oil industry sees orangutans as pests. When these groups come in and clear land – which is destroying the rain forest – they kill the parents, take the babies and sell them.”

Dotson is quite the burgeoning expert on the subject. She completed her senior English project on the palm oil industry and its extensive reach, not only on a global level, but right here in NC as well. “Palm oil is in practically everything. Seventy percent of the materials in the United States have palm oil in them. Even local North Carolina businesses use palm oil in their products.” Dotson sighs, “I think the main struggle in conservation efforts is the lack of knowledge about these things. People buy products whose proceeds are directly going to the destruction of the rainforest and orangutan populations and they don’t even realize it.”

Dotson says it all comes back to education. “If you don’t know you’re buying something that is harmful, you’ll continue to buy it. If you don’t know there is an opportunity to recycle, you’ll continue to just throw those items in the trash. If you don’t know where to volunteer your time towards conservational efforts, you’ll miss some fulfilling work. People should know they have outlets to get involved.”

Stephanie Dotson gives a presentation about adding recycling bins to local parks during a Town Hall meeting.

Dotson has made educating others and providing those opportunities her personal goal. She has worked tirelessly to raise awareness even on a local level. She has performed several Adopt-A-Stream clean ups as part of her Honor Society requirements and her senior exit project. She is also directly responsible for the recycling bins that are now available in Mint Hill area parks.

When Dotson returns at the end of the summer, she will be heading off to college at Appalachian State, majoring in Biological Anthropology. Her ultimate desire would be to work in the nonprofit sector. “Without educating, you can’t really fix the issue.” Dotson emphasizes. App State has a lot of minors that will work with Dotson’s passions: primatology, evolutionary biology, even nonprofit studies. These would all give her the chance to continue her education into the Master and PhD programs as well as the chance to communicate why conservational work is important.

Dotson will be keeping a field research journal of her experiences in Malaysia this summer, which she will share with the Mint Hill Times upon her return. She would love for interested readers to donate to the Sepilok Rehabilitation Center to help fund the research she will be doing over the summer. She also encourages Mint Hill community members to seek out or even create opportunities for environmental conservation. “As long as we have people trying, and going out, and doing – those are steps in the right direction.”

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Kourtney received her BA from the University of South Carolina in 2009. Her true love is storytelling. She loves literature, film, music, drama, and dance for the unique ways each fine art can tell a story. She is married to Tyler, the best part of her own story. She loves Jesus, her 16 nieces and nephews, her three cats, her church and Life Group, doing celebrity impressions, hot cocoa, Oreos, PB M&Ms, and Disneyworld.