Open Spaces: Acting, Naturally

Acting, Naturally

By De’Andre Brown, USFWS

Who knew that theatre studies and working in visitor services at a national wildlife refuge go hand in hand? I would not have thought that before spending last summer in the Career Discovery Internship Program at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

Before the 10-week internship started, I kept thinking, “Will I be ready?” After all, I had grown up in Chicago, and my academic concentration at Alabama State University is theatre. How would I fit into a conservation job at a refuge on a barrier island near Newburyport, MA?

I needn’t have worried. Two of my theatrical skills – mastering new subjects and speaking in public without stumbling – were good fits as I worked with visitors at the refuge.

When I wasn’t manning the visitor center, I was building slideshows, developing tour-based videos, doing roving interpretations and, one memorable day, helping out with a Tide Pooling event in which excited children discovered marine life new to many of them – sand dollars and horseshoe, green and rock crabs.

brownBrown kayaking with Emily Poore of the Student Conservaton Association. (Photo: Lamar Gore/USFWS)

I learned about other jobs that refuges offer, too: refuge manager, maintenance specialist, federal wildlife officer, park ranger and, especially, wildlife biologist. I helped Parker River Refuge biologists survey terns, band bats and monitor piping plover predators.

My favorite place on the refuge was the saltwater marsh, where I saw many species of birds, including my favorite, the red-winged blackbird. I learned that the refuge was not just trees and shrubbery. It was teeming with life.

And toward the end of the summer, I was able to truly use my theatre skills. At Family Day in Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, I put on a coyote costume to show children that the National Wildlife Refuge System protects wildlife of all sorts and that Parker River National Wildlife Refuge protects piping plovers in particular. The children were plovers. I, the coyote, tried to catch them. The kids threw water balloons at me to ward off my “predation.” In the process they learned about wildlife conservation.

My summer at the refuge exposed me to a new career path and proved that I could step out of my comfort zone to do something I never imagined I would do.

To see a video about my experience at the refuge, go to, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRkPl6kgMrk

De’Andre Brown is an intern in the Career Discovery Internship Program with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Last updated: June 21, 2012