The start of a beautiful internship program

mountain landscape
Photo Courtesy of the Colorado State Forest Service

New internship programs with the USDA Forest Service (USFS) and Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) offer Warner College of Natural Resources students new perspectives about their respective fields.

Internship programs this past summer marked the second year Colorado State University partnered with the U.S. Forest Service and an inaugural year with the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS). The program emphasized working in the field with forest service professionals, and provided for relevant trainings, certifications, and professional writing opportunities with students receiving formal performance evaluations.

“Our initial work with the USFS set the bar and provides a model for other internship programs, like that with CSFS, developing throughout the college,” said Tiara Marshall, the university’s USFS liaison and Forest and Rangeland Stewardship (FRS) department undergraduate coordinator.

The process of building these collaborative partnerships created unique projects for nine undergraduate students assigned across the state. The variety of experiences and initiatives built into each internship provided current knowledge, skills and abilities these juniors and seniors will need in their upcoming natural resource careers.

USDA Forest Service Internship Program

The USFS pilot program that resumed this past summer aimed to increase the participation of underrepresented minority groups in natural resource and forest service careers. Four students spent a few days to several weeks at a time training in new skills and assisting with a variety of summer projects.

FRS department students Noel Rodriguez, Hayden Taylor, Ariana Vargas and Marley Smith worked on USFS initiatives ranging from white pine research and invasive weed management to prescribed fire and outreach events. Each intern also developed their own individual project during their internship period.

group smiling
From left: Marley Smith, Noel Rodriguez, Ariana Vargas, Hayden Taylor

Rodriguez analyzed tree core samples to see how genetics and site quality affected tree growth rates. Taylor focused on understanding rangeland issues in San Juan National Forest. Vargas helped design the Elkhorn and Pingree Hill prescribed fire plan and Smith concentrated on collaboration within the forest service and with the public. The opportunity to explore areas outside their academic expertise and apply what they’ve learned in the classroom expanded each student’s vision of what opportunities are available within their intended professions.

“I found that I really connected with people and the community impacts of rangeland restoration. You never know how an experience like this will change your mind and thought processes.” – Hayden Taylor

“I’m a firm believer in managing for the seventh generation. After this experience, I’d like to be involved in sustainability and work with people in the wildland urban interface.” – Ariana Vargas

“When I started, I was convinced I wanted to do forest management, but after completing this internship, I really like research. I had the chance to work in many different types of ecosystems.” – Noel Rodriguez

“I had the freedom to develop my interests in public education and outreach. I found that a lot of collaboration needs to happen inside and outside the USFS and I hope to become that channel.” – Marley Smith

Colorado State Forest Service Internship Program

The new CSFS internship program gave Warner College students a professional introduction to this state agency. The 2018 goals for this mutually beneficial program were to cultivate student knowledge, skills and abilities while also accomplishing additional CSFS initiatives with the students’ help.

“Warner College undergraduates have a wealth of knowledge from the classroom that they can share with our foresters,” said Megan Matonis, CSFS Experiental Learning Specialist and Warner College Liaison. “And our agency can offer students real-world opportunities to apply their book learning and to experience forestry in action.”

FRS students Matt Mills, Kelby Woodard, Sean Kovatch, Drew Menasco and Ecosystem Science and Sustainability student Jonah Seng worked in offices and landscapes across the state. Their responsibilities covered diverse areas such as GIS support and data archiving, forest planning and urban forestry, multiple-use public lands management, collaborative forest management, cross-boundary management and greenhouse operations.

Two men walk in forest

“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from this job is that most questions related to forestry can be answered with ‘it depends.’” – Kelby Woodard

“The most valuable lesson that I’ll take with me to future jobs is the way to deal with clients. I learned to be patient, listen, give good feedback, communicate why I did what I did, and accommodate their needs while still delivering a professional product.” – Drew Menasco

“I gained in-depth knowledge about the specific ways the Gunnison Field Office strives to meet the goals and objectives outlined by the CSFS mission.” – Matt Mills

“I have learned that there is much more to forestry than cruising timber and writing plans. There are many secondary tasks such as keeping equipment functional and clean, as well as working with people to address problems.” – Sean Kovatch

“It was enlightening to actually walk through the woods and mark the areas myself rather than from the road or seeing boundaries on a map. It helped me understand the depth of consideration that goes into what will be cut.” – Jonah Seng