Sunrise light on a grove of tufa towers emerging from the water of Mono Lake with soft green and dusty-red wild grasses in the foreground, Canada geese in the shallow water with reflections of the rocky towers, and desert hills in the distance.

Mono Lake Interns then and now: Lisa Curtis

This post was written by Julie Curtis, 2014 Mono Lake Intern.

Over the years the Mono Lake Committee has attracted hundreds of young, passionate environmentalists looking for involvement in Mono Lake’s story. Whether in college, fresh out of school or like this year’s two Birding Interns, retired folks looking to help out, the seasonal staff plays a huge role in keeping the Mono Lake Committee a well-oiled machine during the summer months. I am not alone in feeling that what I have given the Committee cannot compare to what the people, experiences, and natural world in the Eastern Sierra has given me. The incredible Mono Lake story is infectious and continues to inspire me as I head further into the field of environmental studies.

The departures of seasonal staff occurs in two waves each year—in the end of August and the beginning of November. Once departed, it largely becomes a mystery where these individuals full of fun Mono Lake facts end up. Luckily, many keep in touch. One retired intern in particular is pretty much forced into keeping in touch with me. My sister Lisa Curtis was a Mono Lake Intern seven years ago during a summer between her freshman and sophomore years at Whitman College. Inspired by our summer cabin neighbor and good family friend Martha Davis’ early accomplishments with the Committee, our family has been in full support of the cause since David Gaines formed the Committee in 1978 so it only felt natural that we would both intern here when the time came to find a summer job.

Lisa’s experience in 2007 was nothing short of incredible—a typical response from former interns. Her highlights were the canoe tours and grossing out tourists by eating the alkali fly pupae. She claims “people still don’t believe me when I tell them that eating flies was part of my first job in college!”

Lisa Curtis giving a South Tufa tour at Mono Lake shoreline, summer 2007. Photo courtesy of John Flinn.

Lisa explains, “Mono Lake instilled a real passion for environmentalism that took me from the beautiful tufas, into the halls of the White House, and into the mud huts of my Peace Corps village.” Her internship at the White House a few summers after Mono Lake and her time in Niger, Africa working for the Peace Corps post-graduation have been important stepping stones.

Lisa with one of the children in her village in Niger. Photo courtesy of Lisa Curtis.

Lisa’s most recent endeavor has been entrepreneurship. Due to terrorist threats in West Africa, Lisa was unable to finish her service with Peace Corps and was forced to return home more than a year early (to our mother’s relief). For Lisa, it was extremely difficult not to be able to complete her goals in the village she fell so deeply in love with. So, she did not waste a moment when she returned to the states, and continued her efforts at making a positive impact in her village in Niger.

Taking advantage of a highly nutritious plant, moringa, that prospers in West Africa and can be harvested by women, Lisa developed the Kuli Kuli moringa nutrition bar. Fast forward two years, Kuli Kuli has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, the San Francisco Chronicle, and more. You can find Kuli Kuli bars in over 150 stores across Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. She is working with 500 women in Ghana to harvest the moringa, giving them a wage of nearly three times the national average. Her company’s success reflects her incredible work ethic, passion, and drive towards making a positive difference. On their site, the Kuli Kuli team explains how they want to “create a world where everyone has access to nutritious sources of food and malnutrition only exists in history textbooks.” Check out to find out more information about Lisa’s company.

Lisa spreading the Kuli Kuli love at a farmer’s market. Photo courtesy of Lisa Curtis.

It is obvious that I am lucky to be in the same gene pool as such an accomplished 26-year-old like Lisa. Although she does draw her inspiration from a number of places, her time at the Mono Lake Committee played a great role in creating her passion towards making the world a better place. When I asked her about the effect the internship had on who she is today, Lisa said, “The Mono Lake Committee is a true environmental success story and inspires all who come across it. I am very grateful for my summer in the Mono Basin.”

Lisa is just one example of the accomplishments former interns for the Mono Lake Committee are making out in the real world. Look for future Mono-logue posts for more information on interns, then and now.