Graduating senior Jessica Hauff helps children learn about bats and their habitats

Jessica Hauff. Photo provided.

When graduating George Mason University senior Jessica Hauff started her internship at Potomac Overlook Regional Park, she was thrilled with her hands-on experience.

She was assigned jobs such as helping with the budget and an invasive species guide, cleaning out the kids’ cave and readying the facility for summer camp. While Hauff had already worked at the park part-time as a naturalist, the 400-hour internship was her chance to explore the management side of the Arlington, Virginia, facility.

And then the coronavirus pandemic hit Virginia. While Hauff sheltered at home, she was able to continue helping the park by turning her knowledge into a two-hour lesson plan about bats.

“I love that place, and I was so disappointed not to be able to be there,” Hauff said. “I miss it, but I hope the lesson plan I created helps children have a better understanding of bats and nature. I want it to be useful to the park.”

Potomac Overlook Regional Park, part of a network of NOVA Parks, houses a variety of animals in its nature center. Hauff loved to hike the trails and explore the animals and plants native to the area. She soaked up information about snakes and, of course, bats. Hauff graduates in May from the College of Education and Human Development with a BS in Health, Fitness and Recreation Resources with a concentration in Parks and Outdoor Recreation.

Hauff’s enthusiasm for nature is contagious, said Rachel Doody, manager of Potomac Overlook Regional Park and a Mason alumna.

“Jessica is just so excited about to learn everything she can about what makes a place like ours function,” Doody said. “She is also one of those people that just likes to touch and see and smell and be a part of nature. Most of us nature nerds are like that.”

Because of Virginia’s shelter in place order, Hauff was concerned about completing her internship. But then she settled on making the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) appropriate lesson plan about bats, their habitat and their interactions with humans. The lesson plan includes a variety of facts about bats, such as the ability of mothers to find their offspring via their sense of smell.

“Some people, when they think of bats, maybe they think of coronavirus or vampires,” Hauff said. “But I want people to know that bats are creatures that are interesting.” 

Hauff knows that some people are scared of bats. She points out an important life lesson she’s learned about nature:  ”You shouldn’t be scared of something you don’t know about. Instead, you should learn more about it.”