Reflections from a Seasonal Intern

Hi there! My name is Jaclyn Gary, and in June 2022 I joined the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) as a Student Conservation Association intern. I primarily work with our Aquatic Invasive Species team (AIS) doing early detection monitoring on Lake Huron and Lake Erie. The goal of this program is to detect the next new invader of the Great Lakes so that we may take early action to prevent its establishment. Based on their proximity to the Great Lakes region, Bighead Carp, Silver Carp, and Northern Snakehead are species that we think might make their way into the Great Lakes ecosystems, but there’s really no way to know definitively until we catch something new. That’s part of what I like most about this work: it keeps you on your toes. 

As I approach the end of my internship, I’ve been reflecting on just how much I’ve learned in my seven short months here in Alpena. Growing up in New Jersey and attending college at Colorado University Boulder, I’d never been to Michigan, nor had I ever seen any of the Great Lakes prior to accepting this position. After graduation, I decided to move to Alpena sight unseen and dive headfirst into the Lakes (literally and figuratively). I’m so glad I did. During my time with AIS, I’ve learned how to work with a variety of sampling techniques like fyke nets, trawls, gill nets, minnow traps, and electrofishing boats. My head was constantly on a swivel as I was taught fish identification while also trying to become familiar with other aquatic, terrestrial, and aerial organisms. Throughout the field season I also sought out opportunities to cross-train with our Habitat Program, Partners Program, Detroit River Native Species team, and Grass Carp Response team, which supplemented my technical skills and allowed me to collaborate with a greater diversity of USFWS staff. I learned how to work with set lines, PIT tags, beach seines, and backpack electrofishing equipment, as well as how to adapt on the spot to new environments, expectations, and people. 

My internship experience has been incredibly rewarding. The skills and experiences I’ve gained form a solid foundation upon which I feel I can start to build a fulfilling career in conservation. In college, I chose to major in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and I always found my courses very interesting, but it’s one thing to learn principles in a classroom. It’s a totally different beast when you’re tired, sweaty, and covered in gizzard shad scales. However, this job confirmed that I love conservation in practice just as much as I do in theory, and that I am indeed on the right path. 

I feel immensely grateful for all that I’ve been able to see, learn, and do through this opportunity, and I’d like to thank each and every person I’ve worked with in the past seven months for enriching my time here with the Alpena FWCO.

Story Tags

Internship programs
Invasive species