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Flat Rock College Student Embarks
on Career with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Jake Bonello, 27, is not what anyone would consider the conventional college student.

Photo courtesy of Wayne County Community College District.

Photo courtesy of Wayne County Community College District.

He began his studies at Wayne County Community College District in 2006 and graduated with an associate of science degree six years later.

“My job at the time did not work around my school schedule so going to school full time was not an option for me,” Bonello said. “I took night classes part time and two months after graduating landed a job.”

His employer at the time wasn't flexible and Bonello found night classes a challenge.

“It wasn't easy taking late nights doing homework, early mornings back at work, and having to try and remain mentally agile to survive classes,” he said. “It was a constant struggle.”

His degree choice stemmed from his childhood.

“My passion for the outdoors started at a very young age,” he said. “As soon as I could walk, my parents had me out and about in the woods and on the boat, and I guess my love for the outdoors just drove me to pursue it as a career."

While at Wayne County Community College District, the Flat Rock resident saw a posting for a seasonal position at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, working for the refuge’s nonprofit Friends group, the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance. It was a seasonal ecological restoration technician position helping to restore an industrial brownfield back into a natural landscape along the Detroit River.

That site at the Refuge Gateway soon will be home to a new boat dock and fishing pier.

“I led a volunteer group that planted 550 trees there in two years,” Bonello said. “The site was cleaned up, capped and vegetated.”

He worked in that position for four months until it expired, but proposed to the management team that he would stay on part-time as a volunteer. They accepted and he continued his studies at Eastern Michigan University, working part-time in retail while going to school for his bachelor’s degree in environmental biology.

Serving as a volunteer for more than a year, he received extensive training, logging in more than 1,000 volunteer hours. A student trainee position finally opened. It was a biological technician position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service working on invasive species removal.

“After I finish my undergraduate degree, I can continue to keep the position if I go for my master’s, which I’m highly considering,” Bonello said.

He is now working as a federal employee with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service while still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

Photo courtesy of Wayne County Community College District.

Photo courtesy of Wayne County Community College District.

“I lead a three-person team that over the majority of the summer surveys the entire Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge for invasive species,” he said. “Once we have everything mapped and entered into our GIS database, we spend the fall prioritizing and treating the largest threats to our coastal wetlands. I am also one that will never turn down the opportunity to help our visitor services team with education and outreach opportunities if they present themselves.”

The team covered a 40-mile stretch from Ecorse to Erie Township looking for invasive wetland plant species such as phragmites, flowering rush and European frog-bit.

During the winter, he will transition from the wetlands to looking for invasive plants such as buckthorn and honeysuckle.

“It’s very rewarding seeing the before and after of everything I've done,” he said. “And seeing the native ecosystem respond is really rewarding.”

Watching the first prairie he ever seeded near Newport come in was another great experience, Bonello added.

Today, the 2006 Flat Rock High School graduate is grateful for the opportunities and a smooth transition to a four-year university after graduating from Wayne County Community College District.

“All of this was possible because I decided to get a summer job a few months after graduating from WCCCD,” he said. “The college has taught me so much about my field of study, about the importance of patience and having a positive outlook on life. Even if I could, I wouldn't change a thing.

“It gave me all the base knowledge needed to be a qualified candidate for the ecological restoration technician. Prior to that job, I had no in-the-field experience since I worked for Michelin Tire for six and a half years. All the in-field experience I had came from what I learned at WCCCD.”

Although Bonello continues to set goals, he said he would be content continuing on his current career path.

“I would love nothing more in life than to make working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service my career,” he said. “I have received more training than I can even count, have met numerous politicians and public figures, have been working under the greatest team I have ever met, and it’s an agency with the best policy ever - ‘Wildlife First.’”

In July, he was sent to the regional office for a workshop where he had the opportunity to meet regional leaders in the field.

“I heard really cool stories and witnessed some awesome projects that made me realize how willing I now am to move anywhere in the country if it means me getting a job within the service,” he said. “My goal is to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but where in the country that career choice takes me is yet to be determined.”

Story courtesy of Wayne County Community College District.

Republished with permission from The News-Herald Downriver Life Editor Andrea Blum.


Last updated: January 6, 2016