When I started my fellowship at the USFWS HQ in January, I had no idea how the vision I had for the year would change and evolve. I expected to take advantage of being in D.C and HQ and the unique experience of being simultaneously connected to all the different national wildlife refuges. Having worked in the field before, I wanted a new perspective on how resources get allocated, decisions get made, and how priority items get translated into action. I also wanted to have the chance to work on national level tasks and projects under the guidance of awesome mentors.
For the first few months of my fellowship, I did a variety of things: I attended meetings, visited refuges, participated in a regional visitor services workshop, was Puddles (the USFWS mascot) at the annual National Wildlife Refuge Expo, helped evaluate Agents of Discovery (a gamified way to experience refuges) by completing a mission at the Patuxent Research Refuge near Baltimore, and even saw nesting bald eagles at Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge, a hidden gem in the DMV area.
Then COVID-19 hit.
And suddenly things like networking happy hours, visiting different refuges, and exploring DC were no longer a possibility in the traditional sense. It’s strange to work from home. On one hand, I miss having a structured routine and even just leaving my house! On the other hand, I’ve traded my 30-40 minute commute through DC traffic for a 2 minute commute to my downstairs workspace, and every day can be “Casual Friday” when your house is the office.
However, despite my shorter commute, I did distinctly feel the loss of collaborating with my team in the office. I was initially worried that, as an intern, I would be left without meaningful work and/or professional development opportunities. But my supervisors provided weekly check in meetings, valuable ways to contribute to their work, and recognized my accomplishments. This continued collaboration and teamwork has been hugely important to me.
I was not only able to continue my work on projects like developing fact sheets for the field and facilitating the sustained growth of Communities of Practice, I was also able take on additional responsibilities such as building out the Visitor Services Division SharePoint site. In July, I had the opportunity to speak to about 200 Service employees at the “All Hands” meeting. My presentation specifically addressed ways in which the Service could push the needle on outreach recruitment and retention of minority populations. I was later asked to write a personal blog post that then got shared by the Director and the agency’s twitter!
I have learned so much over the past 8 months, and I can’t wait to see how much I continue to grow in the time I have left. I am especially looking forward to making use of the many wonderful virtual classes offered through NCTC and bringing my personal background and experiences to the table to work towards equity in environmental access. I may not know exactly where I’m going yet post fellowship, but I know that my experiences here will prove to be invaluable in my journey.
Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service
Location: Fish and Wildlife Headquarters, Washington Office