TPWD Internship Program Trains Future Conservationists

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AUSTIN, Texas — All across Texas this summer, 147 student interns are getting their hands dirty and feet wet in the real world of wildlife conservation, environmental law enforcement, state parks and other aspects of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Hans Friedel, a first year graduate student at Texas State University majoring in geography with a concentration in land/area development and management, is interning in the Wildlife Division.

Friedel said his life experiences involving the outdoors, wildlife, swimming, camping, hiking, mountain climbing, nature viewing and fishing have all influenced him in his decision to seek TPWD as his internship of choice.

“My undergraduate degree is in marketing, and since I am currently pursuing a masters in applied geography, nature tourism seemed like a perfect fit for my educational background and interests,” said Friedel. “I feel this position will help me learn more about the diverse ecoregions, wildlife and small towns in Texas.”

Friedel said he is interested in developing and implementing sustainable wildlife tourism. Growing up in Colorado gave Friedel the opportunity to watch Rocky Mountain National Park change from a quiet area where tourists are able to see many animals roam the open land to a place that is congested and where many of its more interesting species are seldom seen.

“I think working for TPWD in nature tourism will help me learn more about balancing the economic benefits and opportunities of wildlife tourism and sustainable hunting with the needs of the wildlife and the environment itself,” said Friedel.

Friedel was one of more than 600 students who sent applications for acceptance into the competitive TPWD summer internship program.

The program objective is to introduce interested college students, particularly women and minorities, to career opportunities in positions located statewide and job settings in which to gain practical experience and training in natural and cultural resource fields.

Connie Hofmann, TPWD Intern Coordinator, has been with the agency for two years and 2007 marks her third summer heading the intern program.

“The intern program is so important because it’s the lifeline to our agency’s future,” said Hofmann. “The internship experience encourages students to think about majors they may have never thought about before. The program also allows our agency to replenish all those who are retiring.”

Hofmann also said the intern program is critical to help the agency increase its workforce diversity.

“As an agency, we should reflect the state of Texas,” said Hofmann. “The intern program broadens the culture at TPWD and this is so important because we need to make our agency relatable to the public and the public relatable to us.”

In order to increase diversity, Hofmann and her team are using a technique called “targeted recruiting” to reach women and minorities who may not have been aware of what TPWD has to offer.

This year’s diversity efforts through the intern program are at total record highs: 72 women, eight blacks, 20 Hispanics and one Asian-American are working as interns.

Some interns have been coming back to TPWD each summer for years. Returning intern Stacy Marhofer, a senior at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi majoring in environmental science with an emphasis in biology and a minor in business, first interned with the Coastal Fisheries Division in Port Arthur in 2006 and is now an intern with the Coastal Fisheries Division in Port O’Connor.

With a childhood passion for fishing, Marhofer chose TPW as her internship so she could spend her summer outside and not behind a desk.

“I love outdoor activities and this seemed to be the perfect solution,” said Marhofer.

Marhofer said she has a desire to make the world more ecologically friendly. Through her interest in the popular Discovery Channel TV show Planet Earth, Marhofer said, she realized that even though much has been lost, there is still a lot to conserve.

“If we don’t preserve it, we will be known as the generation that didn’t care. I don’t want that,” said Marhofer. “While you can’t stop progress, I believe you can shift its focus. I’d like to really work with people to try to get them to appreciate what they have, both locally and globally.”

Her job duties include traveling on boats to do trawls, sampling fish with bag seines and gill nets, and producing gill net report summaries.

Marhofer said that being a member of the intern program has taught her that hard work can get you anywhere and her experiences with TPWD are helping her reach her career goals.

“[The intern program] has allowed me to work with people that know so much about the environment and they have transferred their knowledge to me,” she said. “I don’t know it all but I’m learning slowly about the different ecosystems and that will come in handy when explaining the importance of marine life to people.”

Internship veteran Lana Daniels, a senior at Texas A&M University majoring in wildlife and fisheries and a minor in sociology, began her internship experience at TPWD in the State Parks Division at Lockhart State Park in 2004, continued as a clerk at Bastrop State Park in 2005, interned with the Infrastructure Division in 2006, and is currently an intern with the Wildlife Division.

Daniels’ decision to choose TPWD for the fourth time not only stems from her extensive internship experience, but to help her reach her personal goals in life.

“I chose Wildlife this year to complete my field experience as required by my degree plan,” said Daniels. “I have been able to see and experience a broad array of what TPWD has to offer as an employer. I plan to pursue a career in wildlife and fisheries but I’m not sure exactly where or what role.”

Daniels’ current job duties include two projects dealing with wildlife management areas (WMA): payment in lieu of taxes for the WMAs which involve researching the current acreage for each WMA and also contacting the county where the WMA lies to find the current agriculture value per acre of land, and working on the filing system and reconciliation of land easements and agreements involving the WMAs.

Although Daniels has learned how much work goes into the day-to-day operations at TPWD, she is looking forward to much more.

“I hope to travel this summer. Last summer with Infrastructure, I was able to travel out to Indian Lodge for a historical renovation project and I also spent two weeks with the survey crew at Cleburne State Park,” said Daniels. “I would really like to visit one of the WMAs this summer. I have never been to one and I would like to see exactly what goes on there.”

Scott Copper, a graduate student at Baylor University and an intern in the Information Technology/Telecom division, said that the project to install wireless networks at each of the parks convinced him that TPWD was the place for him to work this summer.

“I could have gone to work for a company to install equipment in buildings but the challenge to install against different terrains and atmospheres was the deciding factor in my internship choice,” said Copper. “I wanted to learn all aspects of the job and TPW persuaded me with the ability to be on-site and jump right in to the implementation of the wireless networks.”

Although Copper looks forward to many more challenges with implementation of the state parks, he is beginning to learn aspects in his field of interest that he didn’t know before.

“I am beginning to learn about virtual private network clients and securing the networks,” said Copper. “The program has helped me with my knowledge of wireless networks and security to better prepare me for this converged field of telecom and IT.”

Not all interns are getting their hands dirty during their internship experience. Carly Drees, a recent graduate of Southwestern University with a degree in communications studies, is interning with the Marketing and Web Services Branch at the Austin headquarters.

“I’ve always loved things like camping, fishing and hiking, and I wanted to work with something that I’m passionate about,” said Drees. “I’m also job searching right now and thought TPWD would be great place to build up my resume and get a lot of real life experience.”

Drees said she is learning a lot.

“I’m getting a great inside look into everything that TPWD does. I’ve learned about the different divisions, the many programs they develop, and the ins and outs of working for a state agency,” said Drees. “I’m helping with many aspects of marketing. So far, I’ve written copy for brochures, direct mailings and ads and I’m helping develop brochures for Expo 2007 and license plate sales.”

Some interns get hired and move into fulltime careers with TPWD. Nyta Hensley interned with TPW in 2000 at the Old Tunnel WMA, where she worked with bats and helped educate the public about the importance of bats to the environment.

Hensley was hired in 2004 and is currently the Natural Resource Specialist for the Old Tunnel WMA. She manages the 16.1 acres that comprise the management area, the bat habitat, a volunteer group of 60 individuals and a host of other responsibilities.

“Having the opportunity to continually talk with the public about nature inspired me to want to learn more and share more with others,” said Hensley. “In addition, I came to love bats so I wanted to do my part to help protect them.”

Hensley said that she is the perfect example of how getting your foot in the door and doing a good job can pay off and how students can make their internship experience as much or as little as they want.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and try to work on many projects that interest you. I always found an open door and a willing answer to any question I had,” said Hensley.

Since 1992, when TPWD had 33 summer interns, the program has trained 1,098 interns. The program will cost TPWD a little over $500,000 this year, but organizers say it generates a far greater value to the agency through work done by interns, and by recruiting diverse talent for the organization. Currently, 87 TPWD positions are filled with alumni of the intern program.

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