Student Placement

Former intern alfredo Soto, at left behind red raft about to head up canning river for small mammal survey
Wildlife refuge specialist Alfredo Soto, left, prepares to head down the Canning River with two volunteers for a small mammal survey at Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Soto first came to the refuge as a student intern in 2012 in a program now administered as a Pathways internship. “I found more than a home with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” he says. “I found family — and most importantly, a purpose.” (Photo: Rongjie Zhang)

You’re young, adventurous and fascinated by nature.

Where does that get you when you want to use a school term or break to explore job paths, gain field experience or add some career traction?

To a national wildlife refuge, if you’re lucky, to learn firsthand about wildlife conservation as a paid intern, a fellow or a volunteer.

R2, 2016 Aransas Refge, SCAintern Taylor Franklin, Texas A&M intern Marissa Ortega & young gator
Student Conservation Association intern Taylor Franklin, left, and Texas A&M intern Marissa Ortega hold a young alligator at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast.  (Photo: Jena Moon/USFWS)

Some lucky students get to try their hands at refuge conservation and get paid for it, too.

The Student Conservation Association, a nonprofit that recruits and trains future conservation leaders, hosts many paid internships at wildlife refuges — in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  

As an SCA intern at Aransas Refuge in summer 2016, Taylor Franklin saw a prescribed burn, treated an invasive marsh plant called phragmites, plotted GPS points and weeded a pollinator garden. She hopes to earn a master’s degree in natural resource and wildlife conservation.

“This internship may have changed my life in that it began my path to a career in conservation,” she says. 

SCA interns typically receive a biweekly stipend plus a housing and travel allowance, and are eligible for AmeriCorps Education awards. SCA internships are for high school and college students as well as gap-year students

2016 Refuge Interns, alligator river and pea island refuges, taken at pea island wnr
Interns at national wildlife refuges in eastern North Carolina pose at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. All received training at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Three remained there for their internships. Of the rest, three were posted to Pea Island Refuge; two to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and one to Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: USFWS)

Some refuges recruit their own interns, with funding from nonprofit Friends groups or educational institutions. Interested students should apply directly to the refuge.

Refuge internships are usually unpaid, but housing and a food stipend are often included. Refuges that in recent years have hosted their own internship programs include Alligator River, Chincoteague, J.N. “Ding” Darling, Rachel Carson, Seney and Neal Smith Refuges. 

volunteer composite, navarro, henderson, hamilton
Clockwise from top, 2016-17 refuge volunteer Haley Henderson, left, and a fellow volunteer inspect and tag monarchs at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in California; volunteer Jamie Navarro, in blue shirt, helps plant a native pollinator garden at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in 2015; volunteer Rachel Hamilton holds red-cockaded woodpecker chicks at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia in 2010. (Photos, clockwise from top: USFWS, Kristin Raveling/USFWS, Dean Easton/USFWS)

With help from Friends groups, many refuges also recruit students as volunteers. Student volunteers perform such tasks as leading refuge tours, photographing natural resources, conducting wildlife surveys and helping with administrative duties.

In between tagging monarchs and testing them for parasites at Sacramento Refuge, 2016-17 intern Haley Henderson says she and a fellow intern “would visit schools in northern California to share our newfound knowledge with kids.”

“I enjoyed educating youth about conservation and the history behind the destruction of California’s natural wetlands,” Henderson says.

Find more information about student volunteer opportunities on wildlife refuges from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Interagency Team on Volunteerism.

Caroline Deacy (formerly Cheung) and Kevin Van Hatten, refuge pilot) w Bear, kodiak refuge, credit: bill leacock, usfws
Then-volunteer Caroline Cheung Deacy, with pilot Kevin Van Hatten, fits a tranquilized bear with a GPS collar at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in 2012-13. Deacy later became a seasonal biotech at the Alaska refuge. (Photo: Bill Leacock/USFWS)

Some of the more unusual student volunteer opportunities at refuges are for graduate students in biology on Kodiak Refuge in Alaska.

Between 2009 and 2015, crews of seasonal biology volunteers helped collar female Kodiak bears for two research studies. Volunteers took hair samples and a small slice of claw for stable isotope analyses and tissue samples for genetic analyses. They also weighed bears (by lifting them with a helicopter) and assessed their reproductive status.

“I’ve had absolutely great volunteers, interns, biotechs and grad students over the past 10 years,” says refuge wildlife biologist Bill Leacock. “We wouldn’t have been able to get our work done without them.”

Learn more about Kodiak volunteers and Kodiak biology volunteers.

Ashley Suarez-Burgos, HAF intern, with archery class, John Heinz nwr, lamar gore
Hispanic Access Foundation intern Ashley Suarez-Burgos coaches students in archery during a fall festival at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia. (Photo: Lamar Gore/USFWS)

The Hispanic Access Foundation offers paid internships for college students and college grads. Some 2017-18 HAF interns found placements in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

“The best part of my fellowship is using storytelling as a tool for conservation,” says Ashley Suarez-Burgos, who is spending her internship as a digital media ranger at Refuge System headquarters in Virginia. “This might mean something as small as documenting a fishing event at Patuxent Research Refuge or as big as helping create a nationwide campaign. I love any chance I can get to expand creative boundaries through art and film.”

Ashleyann Perez-Rivera, HAF intern, w archery class, john heinz nwr, lamar gore
Hispanic Access Foundation intern Ashleyann Perez-Rivera tries her hand at a bow and arrow at John Heinz Refuge at Tinicum. (Photo: Lamar Gore/USFWS)

Ashleyann Perez-Rivera, a HAF intern working with the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program, got a kick out of talking about wildlife with schoolkids in Falls Church, Virginia.

“It always inspires me how excited they are to learn about conservation and how curious they are about all the native species nearby,” she says. “My favorite part was seeing their eyes glow when they learned about wolves — and later hearing from teachers that the students took books out of the library to learn more.”

She also liked sharing a new outdoor experience with kids in Philadelphia: “At John Heinz Refuge, I was able to learn archery for the first time and then teach others what I learned.”

Quanit S Ali, 2, CDIP intern 2017, rydell nwr
Quanit S. Ali, shown here at Rydell National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota, says his 2017 Career Discovery Internship Program experience convinced him to pursue a career in conservation. (Photo: Quanit S. Ali)

The Career Discovery Internship Program, begun in 2008, aims to draw diverse and historically underrepresented students into conservation careers. The program is a collaborative, award-winning effort between the Service and the SCA. Learn more about the CDIP program. Or see this video introduction.

Quanit Ali, a junior at the University of Texas-Austin, was part of the 2017 CDIP cohort.

As a wildlife management intern at Glacial Ridge and Rydell National Wildlife Refuges, he says, “I did a variety of things from vegetation monitoring, studying the hydrology functions of lakes on the refuge, bird banding … You could see where the data you gathered got put to use and affected management actions. I found it really meaningful.”

He began the internship as an economics major, who was considering a move into wildlife biology. “The internship convinced me — based on the things I did, the exposure I got [to conservation] — that I was on the right path. I got to see the whole picture.”

alicia thomas, wilderness fellow 2017-18, pahranagat nwr, nv, installing a swim in trap for duck banding, Traver Detras
Wilderness Fellow Alicia Thomas installs a swim-in trap to capture ducks for banding at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada. (Photo: Traver Detras)

National Wildlife Refuge System Wilderness Fellows, hired through the American Conservation Experience, inventory key features and vulnerabilities of selected wilderness areas on refuges.

Alicia Thomas spent 10 weeks in 2017-18 working at Pahranagat Refuge in Nevada, then 10 more weeks at Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge in Washington state.

“I found Pahranagat Refuge to be especially interesting for studying wilderness due to its incredible mosaic of lakes, wetlands, meadows and desert uplands within a relatively compact area,” she says.

keith adams, wilderness fellow 2017-18, wichita mtns nwr
Wilderness Fellow Keith Adams, shown here at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, monitored wilderness character at the Oklahoma refuge as well as at Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana in 2017-18. (Photo: Keith Adams)

“It’s been really great,” says Keith Adams of his experience this year monitoring wilderness character at Bogue Chitto and Wichita Mountains Refuges.  

“I never imagined I’d be working in swamps while riding airboats, or marking timber in dense hardwood forests. More recently, I’ve worked cattle and bison for auction in Oklahoma and taught community members about wilderness and its value to our lives. I’ve gotten to experience so many things that pertain to conservation and management, the career path I’d like to follow.”

To learn more about U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service internship and career opportunities, see and hiring information for students from the Office of Personnel Management.

Compiled by, January 24, 2018