As I have a background in engineering, having a chance to intern with an organization like National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) was something idealistic. The Stanback Internship Program allowed me to make it concrete. I served as a Transportation and Maintenance Backlog Intern for NPCA, based in Washington, D.C. This internship would be my first time working in the U.S. after being a graduate student here for almost a year. It was one of my dreams I had been looking for since I am an international student who aims to broaden my horizons and meet new people. I was so excited and could not wait for this internship to begin after I set up my start date with my supervisors, Laura Loomis and Pamela Goddard (Pam).
On the first day of my internship, I got very warm welcome from people in NPCA, especially my supervisors who took me out for lunch! Pam asked me after showing me around if was it okay that I sit in 3 meetings on my first day. I innocently replied “No problem” since I was more than ready to learn things as soon as possible. After I attended 2 meetings in the morning, I understood just a little from them. I asked myself, was it because I had communication problems or because the content of the meetings were too difficult for me to understand? (Things got better after I attended several meetings and got used to the context). This situation showed me that I must work very hard in order to blend in and become a good asset for NPCA.
As a conservation association, NPCA advocates for national parks, upholds the laws that protect the parks, supports new legislation to address threats to the parks, and fights attempts to weaken these laws in the courts. My main responsibility was to compile statistical data regarding national parks towards states and maintenance backlog in each park to make state fact sheets. The primary objective of these fact sheets was to get funding from congressional members by showing how much impact national parks have on state economy and what would be the benefits if the parks were funded properly. The minor projects were collecting specific data on business sectors along the rivers in Maryland to be used in the future.
While working on my projects, I had opportunities to go to hearings and markups in the House of Representatives and Senate. I gained exposure to aspects of the U.S. legal system that I had never known before. Moreover, I also met with congressional members in person and got the chance to take a picture with Secretary Sally Jewell when listening to her announcement in Baltimore. Nevertheless, the most memorable moment for me was at the Supreme Court. I was cheering and waving a flag with the crowd on the day the court ruled in favor of Gay Marriage nationwide. I will never forget how awesome the atmosphere was that day and how lucky I was to be a witness of that significant announcement!
My enjoyable moments at NPCA did not stop there. I volunteered for the “Find Your Voice” event partly held by NPCA to help clean up the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, one of the national park units. I met and talked to a lot of people who shared the same objective and saw the importance of conserving the park. Besides, NPCA also held many kayaking events. One of them I participated in was along the Potomac River between Washington, D.C. and Maryland. It was my first experience kayaking and the scenery was so beautiful. I never imagined that I was going to do things like this after work, but it was very easy if you were in the Washington, D.C. area.
I could not have expected more from this internship experience. NPCA was not only a place of work for me, but it was my family. I got very good feedback from my supervisors, buddy, and my colleagues. I learned not only from my projects, but also from people I worked and talked with. Every moment at NPCA was so meaningful and happy that I wish to work in an organization like this in the future.