A Talk on the Wild Side.
As the nation’s make-up changes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is privileged to partner with the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF) to ensure that our next generation of conservationists looks like America.
A program with HAF draws talented, diverse college students and recent graduates to the Service and, if all goes well, careers in conservation.
We wanted to highlight the program during Latino Conservation Week, and one of the fellows this year, 23-year-old Paula Ariel Martinez. Despite her fellow status, Ariel is no Service novice, having interned at National Wildlife Refuges before. Here is her story:
I was originally planning on being a lawyer before I stumbled into AP Environmental Science as a junior in high school. It was an Advanced Placement class that fit into my schedule and didn’t seem quite as scary as AP Chemistry or AP Statistics. I had no idea that it would change my life.
I had always had a connection to the outdoors: fishing with my dad, climbing trees, family cookouts, etc. But I had never put it together that I could have a career in the environmental field because my idea of an environmentalist ranged from Steve Irwin calling alligators “beaut’” to people -- with long blond hair and flowing clothes -- chaining themselves to trees.
AP Environmental Science taught me that there is a lot of important middle ground between those two representations.
I went into college knowing that I wanted to work in the environmental field, but with no real idea where to start. Winter break of my first year, I began looking for internship opportunities that would help me understand more about the field and what I wanted to do in the future. Just one problem: All of them were either unpaid or meant for upperclassmen and recent graduates.
I could not afford to do a whole summer of unpaid work, regardless of its importance to my future. Luckily, I found the Hispanic Access Foundation. I applied and was among the first cohort of U.S. Fish and Wildlife HAF interns.
My first internship was at Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley, Massachusetts. It was right down the road from Smith College, where I attended, so I knew the area even though I had never been there before. I was able to experience different aspects of working for FWS, and it sparked my interest in a federal career.
My second internship was at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in Basom, New York, and it was nothing less than transformative. I really got to dive into environmental outreach and interpretation. I discovered a deep passion for reframing natural resource careers as a reality for black and brown youth. I did five Latino Conservation Week events that summer in the cities of Buffalo and Rochester, reaching more than 400 young people.
Over the next two years, I worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Forest Service. Each of those experiences helped me develop professional skills and empowered me to continue my quest for a federal career.
I am currently doing a yearlong fellowship at the FWS headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia (although due to global events, it’s more like doing a yearlong fellowship at the FWS headquarters in my living room).
It is hard sometimes as a fellow to have my ideas, my dreams, my visions for the future condensed into six to 12 months at a time. However, rather than losing hope, I have become even more determined to be an agent of change.
I believe in the mission of the Fish and Wildlife Service – to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people – and the vision it has for the future. One of the whole reasons I started down the natural resources path in the first place was because of the opportunity I had with FWS. That is why I won’t give up. My goal is to overcome all barriers and become a bridge for those who follow, so we can provide a continuing benefit for all American people.
By Paula Ariel Martinez, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service