Opportunities for Youth
Northeast Region
Mentor Profiles
Mariana Bergerson

Mariana Bergerson – Deputy Refuge Manager, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

With a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Studies, Mariana has always found a way to share her passion for natural resources with the people and community that surround her. As a M.S. graduate fellow, her research focused on population ecology of insects and she collaborated with the Wagner Free Institute of Science, a natural history museum, to develop and implement a hands-on, place-based science curriculum for under-served youth in the Philadelphia School District.

Marian began working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2009 as the Visitor Services Manager at Willapa NWR on the southwest coast of Washington. She is currently the Assistant Refuge Manager at John Heinz NWR in Philadelphia and became a formal mentor in the CDIP in 2012.

Mariana says of her experience as a mentor, "CDIP is special because we have a week to bond during orientation and it really helps build the strong foundation of trust and communication to continue throughout the summer. The most important role is not to be a supervisor or a parent to the mentees but to be someone that the mentees can talk to openly about their questions, thoughts, and experiences. Hearing their challenges, seeing how they grow, and sharing their success stories throughout the summer brings me a sense of giving back and accomplishment. It is even better when they stay in touch after the internship and update me on new internships, changes in college majors, and even getting a job with the USFWS!"

Michael Dixon

Michael Dixon - Supervisory Park Ranger, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

During my formative years, my parents and others played an active role in providing me with numerous opportunities to have memorable experiences outdoors, many of which I still cherish today. Through the years, my mentors have challenged me to go above and beyond my comfort zone and gain experience trying new things.

I attribute much of my success to my mentors' abilities to listen intently, provide sage advice, and encourage me throughout my endeavors to find my destiny. As a mentor for the CDIP program I hope to serve as a navigational beacon for individuals that are exploring career opportunities in natural or cultural resource management. I hope to serve as a pathfinder, aiding in my mentee's professional growth, development and career advancement.

Serving as a mentor can be challenging and is an ever-evolving learning experience for all parties involved. I intend to meet any challenges that arise enthusiastically, lead by example and demonstrate problem-solving skills. I aspire to lead mentees in the CDIP with an open mind and a willing spirit.

The benefit I derive from mentoring lies in meeting new people, learning from their life experiences and helping them discover and enhance their personal environmental ethic. Despite any challenges that may arise, spreading knowledge, positivity and helping others achieve their goals is far more rewarding. I believe that more people should make time to find or be a mentor because our quality of life and the future of our nation's resources depend on them.

Juancarlos Giese

Juancarlos Giese - Deputy Refuge Manager, Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex

Juancarlos began his career in conservation working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Hispanic Outreach Program. One highlight of this job was travelling to rural communities in Minnesota and presenting programs to migrant farm workers' children about fishing and the ecosystems of different watersheds found throughout the state. That position lead Juancarlos to a student employment position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and eventually a permanent job with the Service. After spending 11 years at national wildlife refuges in the west, Juancarlos moved east to become the Deputy Refuge Manager at the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

In 2012 Juancarlos joined the CDIP mentor program as one way to help "give back" and offer young people similar learning opportunities he had when starting out in the natural resource field. "Throughout my career I have had many strong and important mentors. Successful mentors were able to listen to questions I had, to be brutally honest: do better, take a different approach and try harder. Comfort and guidance, positive words and encouragement are key aspects of a good mentoring relationship," says Juancarlos.

In addition Juancarlos values the diversity he sees and experiences when working with young people, "You meet people with a different set of experiences and life stories than people in the Service. It's important for the mentors to have an open dialogue with the mentees so they learn to identify the types of issues that are relevant with today's youth. Especially with the CDIP program, there is more opportunity to connect and identify with people of diverse backgrounds."

Marilyn Kitchell

Marilyn Kitchell - Refuge Biologist, Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge

Marilyn began her career with the Service in 2001 in the Student Career Experience Program (now the Pathways program) at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in NJ. With a suburban upbringing, she relied heavily on mentors in both her personal and professional life to help focus her talents and interests on a career in wildlife management. While earning a Bachelor’s degree in wildlife science and a Master’s degree in biology gave her the academic skills to pursue this profession, it was personal mentors that gave her the confidence and courage to keep pushing along. “A mentor is simply someone you respect and trust, someone you can confide in, and who can listen to what you are and aren’t saying”, says Marilyn. “A good mentor doesn’t give you the answers, but encourages you to ask yourself the right questions so that you can make your own way...perhaps with some helpful suggestions along your journey.” Marilyn has worked with dozens of young students looking to find their way in the wildlife profession, maintaining friendships and contacts with most of them. She maintains that both people benefit from the mentor-mentee relationship. “Don’t think for a second that a mentor needs to be a formal relationship, or a short-term one, or a one-way stream of information. Being a mentor isn’t a switch you turn on or off. It’s a way of sharing what’s been given to you with others, so that in giving back you have the opportunity to keep learning and to foster mutual growth”.

Mao Lin

Mao Lin – Ecological Services Biologist, Gulf of Maine Coastal Program

Mao Lin began his career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an intern in the Division of Planning for National Wildlife Refuges. This led Mao to a student employment position as a seabird biologist at the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Mao recalls of his first years with the Service, “ I had a lot of people, who although they were not official mentors, were mentors in an unofficial role. I can name quite a few individuals who weren’t even supervisors who pulled me aside and gave me an introduction to what the Service is all about. It was very welcoming and reassuring to me that people were willing to take the time to do that”.

Now Mao has taken on that role of mentor himself, working with students in the CDIP and other youth program internships. “What’s a bit different about the CDIP is that interns are selected from a pool of candidates that are not really our tradition pool of enthusiastic wildlife majors. They come from all different backgrounds. Some have limited or no experience at all with wildlife. As mentors, we’re here to support them and make sure they have a good experience in the program. There is a certain sense of satisfaction in being able to share my experiences with my mentees, sharing lessons learned from my own experiences. It also reinforces my choice to work for the Service”.

Daffny Pitchford

Daffny Pitchford - Refuge Manager
Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex

Daffny Pitchford began her career in natural resources working at the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. As an Outdoor Recreation Planner, Daffny had the privilege to share her passion for wildlife, the outdoors and nature with folks visiting the refuge on a daily basis. Moving on to become a Deputy Refuge Manager at Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, and now an Assistant Refuge Supervisor in the Northeast Regional Office, Daffny always looks to give back by mentoring young people who come to the Service for new and often challenging life and work experience.

Daffny says of the Career Discovery Internship Program, "What I like most about the program is learning more about the students who participate. The transformation of ideas and perspectives from the start of their summer to the end is an awesome journey to witness." Daffny sees her role as a mentor as providing support, encouragement and guidance for the young people she works with.

Wedge Watkins

Wedge Watkins - Refuge Biologist, Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge

Wedge Watkins is currently the Refuge Wildlife Biologist at the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Columbia, MO, and Region 3 Pollinator Coordinator. He has worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for 7 years. He previously worked for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Klamath Falls, OR for 10 years, and for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in Oregon for 10 years. He earned a B.S. in zoology/wildlife management from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching at Columbia College in Columbia, MO. He is passionate about working with students to help them learn about wildlife and wild places. Wedge has been “paying it forward” since he began teaching golf to Special Olympics athletes in 1977. Since then he has been a water safety instructor, little league coach, 7th grade basketball coach, high school golf coach, and a youthworker at his church. Wedge, has been involved in mentoring with FWS since 2009. Outside of work, Wedge enjoys spending time with his wife and son, playing golf, fishing, and hanging out with friends. In 2011, things came full circle, as Wedge returned to coaching Special Olympics golfers in Columbia, Missouri.

Monica Williams

Monica Williams - Refuge Biologist, Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex

Monica Williams began working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a student intern, so she knows first-hand what is feels like to be a young person submerged into the culture and family of a natural resources career. Her graduate studies earned her a Master’s Degree in Marine-Estuarine-Environmental Sciences from the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore, during which time she was stationed at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. Following her time in Delaware, Monica moved north to Cape Cod working at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge for 6 years. Monica is now the lead wildlife biologist at the Long Island NWR complex in New York.

For Monica, being a mentor is a natural part of being in the Service family. She especially enjoys the experience of mentoring in the Career Discovery Internship Program (CDIP) because of the positive experience it provides for young people of all backgrounds and upbringings. Monica knows that it is important to have mentors in which ever field one chooses, but the leadership and support provided in the Service provides a solid and more fluid path for young people to follow.


Last updated: April 3, 2017