Date: July 31, 2009
Brian Cottam, Associate Director
Southern Utah University Office of Regional Services
CEDAR CITY — Utah’s public lands and natural resource management agencies benefit from highly qualified interns, and Southern Utah University students reap the benefits of applying their skills in the state’s national parks, monuments, forest, rangelands, state parks and recreation areas, thanks to an internship cooperative funded in part by SUU Regional Services.
The Intergovernmental Internship Cooperative (IIC) is coordinated on the agency side by Steve McCarthy in a relatively new position funded jointly by the National Park Service and SUU Regional Services.
McCarthy works with IIC Campus Coordinator Seth Ohms to provide qualified interns for the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and Utah State Parks and Recreation.
As the IIC coordinators, McCarthy and Ohms work to ensure that SUU students are prepared when they begin service as government interns.
“We provide training and leadership skills before the fact, which leads to better quality interns, less onthe‐ job training, and more productive work where they are actually making a contribution, and not just hanging around,” McCarthy said.
To date, instruction to prepare interns includes first aid and CPR, “Leave No Trace” training (teaching interns to leave the environment as they found it), and GIS/GPS training. Some students also require training in finger‐printing and certification on all‐terrain vehicles.
Additional specialized trainings are under development in cooperation with the public lands agencies.
All extra training provided by IIC and agency partners supplements the academic preparation students already receive in their SUU courses.
“The idea is to get them ready to hit the ground running and go right to work,” McCarthy said. “We want to create an environment where, when the agencies hear an SUU intern is available, they know they’re getting a quality intern who can make a contribution right away.”
As Agency Coordinator, McCarthy represents the agencies at SUU, while his counterpart Ohms represents the university’s academic programs. Together, they cooperate to train and place individuals who are right for a particular internship and support the students during their internships. Interns serve a variety of Utah public lands constituencies, including Cedar Breaks National Monument, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Pipe Spring National Monument, Grand Canyon‐ Parashant National Monument, Grand Staircase‐Escalante National Monument, Dixie National Forest, Cedar City Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management and various Utah state parks, such as Iron Mission and Sand Hollow.
SUU’s IIC interns do not only represent typical “outdoorsy” majors, such as outdoor recreation, said Paul Roelandt, superintendant of Cedar Breaks National Monument and a member of the IIC Steering Committee.
“That’s something people don’t often think of,” Roelandt said. “They hear outdoors and public lands, and they think of park rangers. But in the National Park Service, we also have a need for specialists in budgeting and accounting, education, public relations, marketing, graphic design, landscape design and maintenance, and construction.”
McCarthy said SUU assigned three interns last spring who worked in diverse fields: criminal justice, range management and graphic design.
“Our internships are not just for your ‘typical’ fields or majors,” he said. “We can place interns in everything from accounting to zoology.”
In addition to traditional outdoors programs, Roelandt said public lands agencies are “equally interested in supporting youth programs that provide outdoor education and hands‐on experiences that may spark an interest and appreciation for our public lands in younger students, from fourth grade through college. We want to be a partner with existing programs and help them expand their outreach, with programs such as SUU’s Cedar Mountain Science Camps.”
Students benefit from the internship through work‐study credit and experience with public‐lands agencies, McCarthy said.
“They also get to have some fun,” he added.
The payoff for the agencies, said Roelandt, comes when the agency receives a strong, motivated student who is well‐prepared and who costs the agency less than a full‐time employee.
For some students, Roelandt pointed out, the internship is just a a reasonably well‐paying “job” — but in other cases, agencies are finding interns who, once exposed to the variety of jobs and responsibilities, develop a genuine interest in making public lands a career.
For example, Trevor Lopez interned at Cedar Breaks National Monument in 2008, working with Chief Ranger Matt Walls. Lopez enjoyed the internship so much that he returned this summer as a seasonal employee.
Roelandt said Lopez plans to enroll in the federal law‐enforcement academy in Santa Rosa, Calif., to certify as a seasonal law‐enforcement ranger, a requirement of all National Park Service rangers. “I hope we can find a full‐time position for him at Cedar Breaks,” Roelandt said. “I’d love to have Trevor come to work with us.”
The partnership between the public lands agencies and SUU is a “win‐win situation for both parties,” said Brian Cottam, SUU Associate Director of Regional Services.
“It’s a unique experience for the students, and it helps to service the university’s outreach and service mission,” he said. “Best of all, we’re helping Utah kids gain the experience they need to return to their own rural communities prepared to potentially access great careers in land management.” In addition, Roelandt said, it allows public‐lands agencies to develop a pool of diverse candidates for future jobs.
“The federal government is looking down the road and seeing more people retiring than we’ll have applicants to fill in behind them,” he said. “This gives us a chance to expose qualified young people to working in public lands as a career.”
Added McCarthy, “We’re developing the public‐lands leaders of tomorrow.”