Connecting Students and Conservation

FWS Refuge
Monday, August 24, 2009

SCA Featured in Fish & Wildlife Service's Refuge

Student Conservation Association intern Joshua McBee worked with the Sewee Association/Sewee Visitor Center, part of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina. (Ashley Hansen)

By Aaron Shwom

Almost every weekend last summer at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in the heart of Virginia Beach, VA, Student Conservation Association (SCA) intern Sandra Jones, a biochemistry major at Spelman College, planned, organized and delivered formal interpretive programs about threatened loggerhead sea turtles, which generally deposit two to eight nests there each year. She focused her programs on the turtles’ lifecycle and migratory and nesting patterns and on the refuge’s monitoring and protection program.

When she wasn’t making that direct contact, she was revitalizing visitor center displays that brought visitors back into the visitor center, where they could get more information about the refuge.

On June 1, Gabe Harper, a psychology major at Morehouse College, took her place, helping with interpretation and environmental education planning and implementation. Harper joined SCA because he has “always had a love for wildlife and things outside and I thought it would be a good experience since I’ve never left Georgia.”

Careers in Conservation

The nonprofit SCA is a nationwide force of college and high school students. For more than 50 years, its hands-on practice of conservation service has helped develop a new generation of conservation leaders. The association’s Conservation Internship Program often gives students their first taste of career opportunities in natural resource conservation and biological sciences as well as environmental education, interpretation and cultural resources.

As it seeks both to diversify its workforce and offer summer employment to youth, the Refuge System is working more closely with the SCA in the Northeast Region to recruit young people from ethnically, racially and economically diverse backgrounds.

After a week-long orientation, 30 summer interns began their work in the region around June 1. They are filling biological or visitor services needs, from Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine, where the intern will spend at least 70 percent of the time involved in an invasive plant study and monitoring, to Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in West Virginia, where the SCA intern will help monitor dragonflies and small mammals, to Erie National Wildlife Refuge in Pennsylvania, where interns will help plan events for the refuge’s 50th anniversary celebration. “SCA interns help us deliver high quality visitor services, especially during the spring and summer, when we face a bigger workload and more visitors,” says Walt Tegge of Back Bay Refuge.

Recruitment Is Up

With students’ greater “green” awareness, SCA has seen its applicant pool increase by 40 percent since last year. On average, SCA places 4,000 interns and high school students annually across the country.

“SCA reviews applicants first, based on their interests and what they want to do,” says Abraham Gates, SCA’s admissions placement manager. SCA works with the supervisors so interns have the needed skills, but also that they have room for growth in a position.”

The Association provides not only conservation interns, but also corps and crews. Costs are shared between SCA and the individual refuge. SCA interns serve for three to 12 months and can start any day of the year. Most have or are pursuing college or graduate degrees. Interns and corps members typically earn $75-$160/week, an AmeriCorps Education Award, have their travel covered and housing provided. If the refuge can’t provide housing, SCA helps locates local housing.

Crew members are high school students, who earn volunteer hours for their work and pay for their travel and personal gear.

Contact SCA’s Partnership Team

888-722-9675 extension 635

Aaron Shwom just completed an eight-month internship with SCA’s Partnership Department.