Over the summer of 2018, I worked as an intern at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I was an Interpretation Ranger, participating in the education of school groups and visitors while also working with volunteers to make sure everyone who visited had the best experience possible. I created my own programs and presented them to audiences and coworkers alike. I relocated myself to northern Michigan so that I would be able to learn about the history and geology of sand dunes and be able to answer any questions visitors may have.
While working at a national park, I met and interacted with many different types of people. While a vast majority of the individuals I encountered were retired, Caucasian individuals from Michigan or the surrounding states there were also quite a few families that traveled great distances to enjoy the park. I interacted with many individuals and families who had come from Texas, California, Alaska, New Jersey or even a different country all together! It was amazing to learn how to communicate with people who didn’t speak English as their first language or who had different customs then I usually encountered. I learned very quickly to ask for clarification as many times as needed so I didn’t give incorrect information and that maps are the key to understanding. Even though I didn’t go very far from home my knowledge of the world increased and my respect for those who are traveling the world was heightened as well.
I also learned a great deal about myself through the internship. I have always loved nature and had a great understanding of what I could do to help protect and preserve it but after working in the national parks system I realize that I can do so much more. Working with the parks is a noble trade, however I am not sure I am prepared to jump through the political hoops that are required when working for the government. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the time that I spent at Sleeping Bear Dunes and have a more thorough understanding of what I can do to help the environment.
Within the parks system there are many different branches; Natural Resources, Interpretation, Roads and Trails, and Maintenance. I was a member of the Interpretation branch and I became very close to all the individuals who also worked in interpretation. There were many personality traits that all the interpreters shared; for example we were all extroverts, naturally upbeat, comfortable public speakers, quick learners, etc. This was a very friendly environment that helped me grow in each of these areas. I lived with some other women who were also working for the park, though not all of them were in my department. I had a few housemates in Natural resources and others in research. These individuals also helped me grow by showing me that other traits are also important such as originality from the researchers doing their own projects, and fearlessness from the bear technician in natural resources. These relationships helped me grow and understand myself better as well as help point me in the direction of my future career.
One of my favorite events that I ran each week was called our “Evening Programs”, these took place every day in the campgrounds at 8pm. My evening program took place every Wednesday and I did a program called “Animals After Dark” with the focus on nocturnal animals that were present in the park. It was an incredibly interactive program that got both the children and the adults up and interested. Each week I gave the same presentation with minor changes based on the audience. I learned how to think on my feet, project my voice and connect with the audience even when there were over 50 people present. Every time I did a program I began by asking where everyone was from and why they make the trip. I got everything from Travers city (a town about 20 minutes away) to Japan and their reasons for coming could be they just wanted a day trip on the dunes to it was their Honeymoon. Each person had a story that they told about their trip and why they were there, and since I was a complete stranger that they would probably never see again, they were brutally honest and asked for advice. I learned about people in different situations and managed to bring all of that information into the programs to make sure everyone felt included. This program allowed me to learn more about other’s lives and cultures while still helping me grow myself.
Finally there was an activity that rangers were required to do called “roving”. This is where the ranger goes out into the park and hikes different trails, or visits attractions and makes sure that everyone who is at these locations is enjoying themselves and following the rules. This was an amazing activity for me because you never knew what you were going to get. One day I was scheduled to hike a remote trail with three people on it for over two hours and the next day I went to a bustling attraction and talked to 300 people in an hour and a half. I was always in uniform and had maps and Junior Ranger books in my backpack at all times so when visitors asked questions I had the resources to answer them. The ability to switch from hours of alone time in a beautiful place to answer visitor’s questions with no break for many hours can be relatively stressful but also makes time go by really fast. Roving helped me practice patience and respect for all individuals at all times and helped me grow as a person.
This past summer I have undergone many new and exciting experiences. Each of these different things has led to me growing and changing as a person, I have become more mature and open with others and with myself. I spent three months exploring and learning about our national parks system as well as interacting with people from many different nationalities and backgrounds. I have undergone huge personal growth through this internship experience and it has changed how I’m looking at myself and my future.
My major is Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, withinthis field I have three main fields that I can enter; research, eco-tourism and conservation. This past summer has given me insight as to what would be involved in eco-tourism. This is something that I am really interested in however I believe that I would go into the natural resources field instead of the interpretation field. Upon my competition of my summer internship I was accepted to participate in research through Ohio State, something that will also help me further my career exploration and that I am very excited to participate in. This internship at the National Park this summer has opened up many opportunities for me and I look forward to exploring all of these options.