You are here

Job Shadows

Job Shadows header image
OSU fisheries and wildlife student interns experience real-world jobs in research, education and wildlife management.

Oregon State University fisheries and wildlife student Chad Freeman spent last summer studying sea otters near Monterey Bay, California. He passed a lot of that time sitting in a pickup truck, drinking coffee as he listened to the beep of a radio receiver that told him a sea otter with a radio tracking collar was swimming offshore somewhere nearby. It all sounds pretty boring or, at the very least, lonely. But Freeman describes the experience as the highlight of all his 16 years of education and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

Freeman was working as a summer intern for a University of California, Davis doctoral researcher, studying otter behavior.

"Finding a 30-pound brown fur ball wrapped up in kelp as far as 500 meters off shore is difficult," said Freeman, now graduated. "Though I became proficient at locating otters, it always amazed me that I could put three otters in one view of the scope, and many tourists who peered through couldn't pick an otter out.

"The hands-on work and the interaction with both people and animals during the internship taught me things that are applicable in the 'real world,'" said Freeman. "It was definitely one of the greatest experiences of my life and it confirmed in my mind that working with otters is what I truly want to do."

Freeman's summer working with sea otters did more than help him find his true calling. He also satisfied an important new requirement for the Bachelor of Science degree in fisheries and wildlife at OSU-participating in an intensive internship with professional responsibility and independence.

Intern walking in tall grass.

OSU Fisheries and Wildlife intern Scott Torland works with an ODFW habitat technician at the Summer Lake wildlife refuge near Lakeview, Oregon. Photo: Lynn Ketchum

The two-year-old internship program is now a crucial part of the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife's revamped curriculum (see New Curriculum Emphasizes Learning From Experience, page 28). Students are required to complete a one-credit exploratory internship and a more comprehensive three-credit intensive internship. Most students complete both internships before or during their junior year.

Many students who become fisheries and wildlife majors are unsure of their interests and career plans.

"Most of our students are from urban areas," said Rebecca Goggans, coordinator of the OSU internship program and a wildlife biologist with Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (ODFW). "They enter the program not knowing what they want to do professionally. They just know they want to work with or 'save' fish or wildlife. They've seen a lot of nature shows on TV, but don't know how that translates into a career. So the internship is one of the best ways to give students an experience that allows them to synthesize the skills and theories learned in class."

For the one-credit internship, some students attend several day-long professional meetings including Wildlife Society or American Fisheries Society annual statewide meetings. Others complete a "job shadow," spending time with a professional at work to see what a career may entail.

Intern feeding bird.

OSU Fisheries and Wildlife intern Daina Arrell feeds a two-week-old pigeon guillemot at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. During her internship, Arrell helped aquarium staff with facilities operations and animal management. Photo: Lynn Ketchum

The more intensive, three or more credit internship requires that students experience professional levels of responsibility and independence.

"An internship can be a full-time summer commitment [intensive, three or more credits] to one day per week for a quarter [exploratory, one credit]," said Goggans. "Some are paid and some are unpaid. It all depends on the student and the cooperating organization. We'll work it out any way we can as long as the student gets the minimum 30 hours of experience for the one-credit internship and 90 hours for the three-credit internship. Most interns spend far more time than the minimum requirement."

Goggans requires the interns to submit progress reports, write articles for the public on their experiences, do a special project and revamp their resume reflecting their newly learned skills. Students are evaluated by a letter grade on their transcript.

Ninety-six students have completed intensive internships so far. Most have been field oriented. Others have worked in educational or outreach programs in nature centers with state or federal agencies. A few interns have participated in data analysis, environmental policy work or laboratory investigations.

More than half of the students have interned with ODFW. Another third have been placed with federal agencies including Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or with OSU fisheries and wildlife researchers.

About 15 percent of the student interns have been with private non-profit organizations, including the International Crane Foundation and Oregon Trout; for-profit, tourist-oriented, educational organizations, including aquariums, wild animal parks, zoos and the High Desert Museum; commodity-producing organizations such as Weyerhaeuser and Willamette Industries; or private consultants, including Ecotrust.

Interns with GPS equipment.

Intern Carmen Van Dyke (left) works with Environmental Protection Agency researcher Selina Heppel. The two are mapping the location of bullfrogs with GPS equipment at the E.E. Wilson Wildlife Refuge near Corvallis. Photo: Lynn Ketchum

Interns come back raving about their new insights.

Most, if not all, interns come back raving about their new insights and increased understanding of field work, not to mention newly acquired skills and a broader perspective.

Above all, the experience helps students enter the last year of their undergraduate education with more focus, more confidence and a refined sense of what they want to learn and what they want to do after they graduate.

"The internship experience seems to make college much more meaningful for the students," said Goggans. "They feel like they are at OSU for a reason."

Woman talking to intern.

Rebecca Goggans coordinates the OSU Fisheries and Wildlife internship program and is a wildlife biologist with the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Photo: Lynn Ketchum

But as with real jobs, most internships have not been easy or all fun and games. There's mention of long hours, terrible weather, smelly samples to collect, rude tourists, uncommunicative supervisors, bad coffee and research fraught with politics and financial constraints.

In other words, they get a taste of the real world.

"They learn that research and field work is made up of a lot of stuff that isn't glamorous," said Goggans. "They sometimes have to do some boring grunt work like filing and analyzing data, but it teaches them that this kind of career is not always fun and exciting."

The students themselves make it abundantly clear how much they have benefited from these experiences. And it is obvious that many of the benefits gained are not those typically acquired in a traditional classroom environment.

For his internship Jaimie Wisnowski traveled to Wyoming last winter to work on the wolf recovery program in Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

"I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to work on this recovery program," said Wisnowski. "It enabled me to see firsthand the politics and limitations of reintroducing a wild species back into its natural habitat after [the habitat] has been significantly altered. I learned a great deal about the use and limitations of telemetry. I also learned how to determine if a kill site we came upon was most probably a wolf kill, or if it was made by one of the other predators that inhabit the area.

"I witnessed the behavior of the wolves on a number of occasions, which inspired me to further investigate this species. I was also able to be involved in a project that worked in cooperation with other government agencies, which can be difficult at times."

Spencer Rearden spent his internship monitoring salmon return in remote Alaskan rivers in a paid position for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He gathered data on the return to help establish quotas for commercial salmon fishing. He monitored, sampled and measured salmon passing up the rivers. And he learned a lot about fish politics in the North.

"Working for Fish and Game has sparked my interest in commercial fisheries management practices," said Rearden. "I also learned about cooperation [between agencies]. I not only learned about the biology of salmon, but the management side of salmon. I feel that I have better skills than I had before. I got a lot of experience about what it's like to work out in the field for large stretches of time, I understand a lot about the politics behind managing a resource and I can better explain the importance of salmon in rural Alaska."

Jennifer Duncan said her internship counting seals and collecting seal scat (feces) with ODFW in Newport was "smelly," but valuable. She counted seals at their haul-out sites (places on shore where seals gather) and collected their scat for analysis to determine what type of fish the seals were eating. Despite the odor, she enjoyed the internship. Plus, her experience later led to a seasonal job with ODFW studying harbor seals.

Working with the Oregon State Police in Springfield, Philip Strehle had an insider's look at fish and game regulation enforcement.

Intern talking to guests at aquarium.

Daina Arrell (left) talks with visitors at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Her internship included teaching about wildlife habitat. Photo: Lynn Ketchum

"I observed the many aspects of their [OSP] everyday work, from interviewing witnesses, checking people for possible violations, observing people for possible illegal activity, and understanding radio communication, [to seeing] how complaints are followed up [and] what is needed in order to give a citation," said Strehle. "When I witnessed a violation taking place, I took detailed notes and passed them on to the troopers. It's as close to the job as I can get without actually being employed."

"The hours are crazy, working dawn 'til dusk."

Working as a naturalist at BLM's Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area on the Oregon coast helped intern Nemesia Herzstein find what she truly loves to do-not just to work with animals, but to teach people about them.

"I love seeing people's faces light up when they learn something," said Herzstein. "I've had a lot of fun and some really cool experiences, like seeing a gray whale and her calf close up. I've learned a lot about wildlife, marine invertebrates and lighthouses.

"It's hard work," she continued. "You're outside a lot. There are unhappy visitors to deal with. Sometimes I have to tell people they're doing something wrong. The hours are crazy, working dawn 'til dusk. And then there's the kelp flies," she said with a laugh. "But most people are happy. I enjoy it."

Some of the internships are spent indoors writing, teaching or analyzing data or policy.

Mona Derby spent her internship with ODFW's office of information and education helping to research and write their yearly "Spring Fishing Forecast."

"Overall, my internship was so much learning, networking with the big guys in Oregon's fisheries [ODFW scientists and administrators], and fun!" said Derby. "Even at 7 a.m. with bad coffee and writer's block...no one will know that a girl who paints her nails is telling them what lures to use at the best fishing holes."

As an environmental policy analyst for the private, non-profit Corvallis Environmental Center (CEC), intern Jasmine Kelly worked with the city of Corvallis to implement a new policy. She researched a locally adapted "Little Environmental Policy Act" (LEPA), a small-scale version of the National Environmental Policy Act, which is the legal backbone of all environmental laws in the nation. She studied environmental policy tools, policy issues and methods of policy comparison.

Interns looking to sea with lighthouse in background.

Nemesia Herzstein (center) points out sealife to visitors at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse and Interpretive Center. Herzstein interned with the Bureau of Land Management as a naturalist. Photo: Lynn Ketchum

Kelly said she knows that her work on the project has been integral to a new system of thinking within the city of Corvallis. She said the internship helped her decide to pursue a career in the political arena of natural resources.

The CEC and other organizations hosting interns are pleased with the program. In fact, demand for interns is far greater than the supply-there are four times as many internship slots than students available to fill them.

"For our off-campus partners, the internship provides the rewards of contributing to the professional development of a future colleague, grooming future employees and completing some extra projects, without a large financial or time commitment," said Goggans.

"We got a lot of good work out of our OSU interns," said Kevin Goodson, fish biologist for ODFW. "It helps us a lot. We have too much to do and not enough people to do it all. We are going to beg for more of them."

But the students receive the greatest rewards from the internship program. Just ask intern Chad Freeman.

"Since I first realized that I wanted to work with marine mammals, all I've heard is how difficult it is to get into that field and that no jobs are available," said Freeman. "Many people said plainly that I was wasting my time. After my experience this past summer and the possible opportunities that I have in my future, I feel like I am doing what everyone said couldn't be done. Not only did I get the opportunity to try doing something I had always dreamed of, I got to live it and I found out that I love it and I can't wait to go back."

NEW CURRICULUM EMPHASIZES LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE

A typical career in fisheries and wildlife has changed a lot since the "good old days."

No longer do most jobs center around the production and harvest of fish and game. Many fisheries and wildlife scientists are often called upon to work with complex natural resource problems having both human and biological aspects. Careers can vary widely, from field investigations in remote locations to laboratory analyses. Or a fish or wildlife scientist may end up behind a desk, preparing budgets, writing grant proposals or working on policy issues.

About six years ago, the OSU fisheries and wildlife faculty sensed that the undergraduate curriculum needed to reflect changes in the profession. For many months faculty worked together to revise the undergraduate curriculum and traditional requirements for the Bachelor of Science degree.

"We realized we had a professional environment that was not only about fish or wildlife-careers out there had strong human dimensions," said Erik Fritzell, former head of the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

"We also realized that our student body was becoming more urban than ever before," said Fritzell. "They needed field experience. And they needed to get engaged in their own education."

The changes in the new curriculum are many. Students now take core courses in both fisheries and wildlife to build a strong and broad foundation in both areas. There's much more "experiential" or hands-on learning, including mandatory job internships. Students have fewer large lecture classes to attend, but get more training in analysis of complex ecological situations requiring group cooperation and critical thinking.

"We didn't want the students to wait until after they graduated to get field experience," said Bob Jarvis, professor of wildlife at OSU and a major force behind the curriculum revisions.

"Our program used to be like a string of pearls-a long series of classes," mused Fritzell, newly appointed associate dean of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences. "Now, a better metaphor for the new program is to take the pearls and make them into a brooch, an object of complex and functional beauty."

INTERNSHIP PROGRAMS ABOUND IN OSU COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURAL SCIENCE

Student internship programs at OSU go far beyond the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. The OSU College of Agricultural Sciences offers students opportunities for internships in other departments as well. Here are some examples.

OSU Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Agricultural business management majors complete "on the job" internships with agribusiness companies their junior year. Students have interned with many companies and organizations, including Farm Credit Services, Stahlbush Island Farms, Cenex, Harvest Capital Company, Oregon Agricultural Statistics Service, Oregon legislators and Willamette Valley Vineyards.

Some agricultural and resource economic majors have completed internships working for members of Congress and other government agencies, law firms, and commodity groups such as the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, Farm Bureau, Wheat League and Oregonians for Food and Shelter.

OSU Department of Animal Sciences. Some students complete internships as assistants to veterinarians. Others work at state agencies such as Oregon Department of Agriculture, Department of Environmental Quality and commodity commissions, or with privately owned farms, ranches or dairies. Some others work with agribusiness such as the feed industry, agricultural finance and pharmaceutical companies.

OSU Department of Bioengineering. Well over half of all undergraduate bioengineering majors get work experience in a lab or with industry before they graduate from OSU. Students have worked in the biotechnology industry, cancer research institutes, hospitals, pharmaceutical research laboratories and in the area of sustainable agriculture, among others.

OSU Department of Crop and Soil Science. Students are required to find internships in practical work experience situations, faculty-mentored research or teaching activities, or as lab assistants. This year students entered internships in integrated pest management consulting, organic farm production and marketing, mining land reclamation and field consulting for agricultural companies. Students also completed internships in soil survey work with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, nursery business management, and genetic and tissue culture work in laboratories with crop and soil researchers.

OSU Department of Food Science and Technology. Students are strongly encouraged to complete internships in Oregon's food processing industry. Typically, internships have been in quality control, product development and production supervision. Recent internship sponsors include local wineries, Oregon Fruit Products, Stahlbush Island Farms and International Flavors and Fragrances. There are more internship positions available than students to fill them.

OSU Department of Horticulture. Students are required to find and complete a "real life," full-time internship, usually between their junior and senior year. All internships are paid and there are always more jobs available than there are students to fill them, according to horticulture student advisor Anita Green. Students have interned at nurseries, botanical gardens, Disney World, in estate gardens, landscape maintenance firms, large resorts, country clubs, parks, golf clubs, agricultural consulting firms, field departments of processing companies and even at the Smithsonian Institution.

OSU Department of Rangeland Resources. Students find paid summer jobs at natural resource agencies, doing range management, fire dispatch and soil conservation work.

Published in: Ecosystems, People