National Park Service internship prepares students for science careers

Developing professional skills as an environmental scientist is not something that happens solely in the classroom. These pertinent skills are cultivated through hard work and gaining experiences in the field doing what scientists do. FIU has a vibrant internship program with the National Park Service to expose students to that fieldwork and to an important potential employer.

Students who participate in the FIU Research Monitoring Internship Program (ReMI) with the National Park Service South Florida/Caribbean Inventory & Monitoring Network work closely with field biologists to help collect, manage and analyze long-term ecological monitoring data that helps to inform resource managers.

Michelle Prats, former intern, with Kevin Whelan
Michelle Prats with Kevin Whelan

“The internship taught me that I really enjoy hard, exhausting work in difficult environmental conditions in the name of science,” said Michelle Prats who participated in an internship before earning a B.S. in Environmental Science in 2013. “I also learned that communicating the limits of what one knows or can do is essential to a successful day in the field. This kind of honesty is the best way to learn more and get the training you need to grow.”

The internship actually helped Prats land her first job after graduation with the National Parks Service, where she still works today.

Since 2007, the ReMI program has prepared students for employment as scientists. The interns have worked in seven NPS units mapping vegetation, monitoring colonial birds, soils, periphyton, nutrients and have worked in mangroves, cypress and Caribbean tropical forests.

Samantha Lamosa wading in a mangrove forest with Kevin Whelan
Samantha Lamosa with Kevin Whelan

Current ReMI intern, Samantha Lamosa has participated in various projects. She started out working on mapping the vegetation of Big Cypress National Park. She then took on an independent project using GIS software to map woody cover in Everglades National Park as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. By monitoring the nests of colonial birds and the mangrove forests they inhabit, Lamosa has also participated in research that sheds light on the health in Biscayne National Park.

“It makes me feel like I’m a part of something important,” said Lamosa, who earned a B.S. in Sustainability and the Environment in 2018. “The work being done during this internship is often challenging, but it is all worthwhile because I know that this data will inform the collective knowledge on the state of South Florida’s ecosystem.”

All 15 FIU students who have completed the ReMI program have gone on to pursue either graduate school or employment in environmental science both with the National Park Service and with other institutions including Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Christian Fernandez collects data in the field
Christian Fernandez

“The internship exposed me to different projects and aspects of natural resource monitoring and conservation,” said Christian Fernandez, who earned a B.A in Sustainability and the Environment in 2017. “I was able to learn my strengths and weaknesses in an environment that offered plenty of support without a lot of pressure. It was also invaluable to see how the federal government operates from the inside. I learned how the hiring process works and what is expected on a resume.”

Fernandez is now employed as a survey technician with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Boulder, Colo.

The FIU Research Monitoring Internship Program has added to the education of FIU students, helped them find jobs after graduation, and truly shaped the careers of early-career scientists. To learn more about how to get involved in the program, contact Kevin Whelan at Kevin_R_Whelan@nps.gov.