Lissette Sanchez and An Binh Nguyen thought they didn’t have a chance. The competition seemed too stiff.
Lissette and An Binh, both rising high school seniors, were applying for an internship with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) at Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center.
“I’ve always liked the outdoors, so that’s why I decided to apply,” Lissette says, “but, I was psyching myself out until my sister talked me into it.”
An Binh, on the other hand, hadn’t had a lot of experience outdoors. Born in Vietnam, she moved to Antietam, PA in 2019 and says her life “was usually school and back home.”
When she heard about the internship from her chemistry teacher, she saw an opportunity to step out of her comfort zone and went for it.
On the day of An Binh’s interview, rain clouds darkened the sky and the Nolde Forest mansion looked like a haunted house.
Lissette felt the same dread. “I thought I wasn’t going to get it,” she adds.
Although they felt their interviews with Brent Erb, the center manager, and Sarah Presogna, the environmental education specialist, could have gone better, Sarah emphasizes, “Just having the opportunity for high school students to interview was such an important part of this project for me. So often internships are reserved for older students who are already on a career track, who have been exposed to one on one interviews before. But, younger students need the interview experience, too.”
Two weeks of doubt passed.
Until the good news came!
“I was screaming. I told my mom and dad, ‘you’ve got to see this,’” An Binh laughs.
“Me too! I’m grateful I got to experience this,” Lissette adds.
They got it! They seized it! Yet, how had this opportunity come to be?
Months before, a generous donor had approached Nolde Forest staff – who then reached out to the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation – to set up an educational, recreational, and professional development experience for youth to learn about career opportunities with DCNR, as well as all that Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests have to offer.
The result of that thoughtfulness and generosity was the creation of two paid internship positions at Nolde Forest, open from July to October.
For the interns, it’s been a comprehensive experience.
An Binh and Lissette have assisted in the center’s Story Time program, as well as a variety of educational programs on forest ecosystems, which they have particularly enjoyed.
Currently, they are working on creating a scavenger hunt and interactive activities for the school field trips which will be visiting Nolde Forest soon.
An Binh and Lissette frequently work with Nolde Forest’s Volunteer Trail Crew where they learn about invasives and how to combat them. Trail Thursdays are one of An Binh’s favorite parts of the internship so far. She’s not a fan of those prickly invasives with barbs and nettles, though.
They’ve also met the Friends of Nolde Forest and other park enthusiasts, assisting in a volunteer-led Wag Walk, group hikes, and a glow-in-the-dark-hike where participants went out with UV lights to see which forest creatures glowed in the dark.
A special moment for An Binh was kayaking at French Creek State Park with the Friends of Nolde Forest and observing birds, fish, and – her favorite – a blue heron while learning about lake ecosystems.
An Binh’s found that she really enjoys hiking and strongly recommends hitting Nolde’s trails when you visit. Lissette suggests taking the Watershed Trail by Angelica Creek, or relaxing at North Pond and watching the ducks.
A highlight for Lissette was a fun stream study they did with a biology teacher from Governor Mifflin High School. “My favorite part about working here is trying new things that I haven’t done before,” she adds.
On Saturdays, they have a lot of interaction with people in the park.
“We’re both introverted. At first, we thought talking with park visitors would be hard,” An Binh says, “but we were so surprised by how easy it was.”
“It was intimidating to go out and talk to people, but there are a lot of nice people that come here and want to learn more about the space. Now, I feel more comfortable with going out of my comfort zone and talking to people,” Lissette adds.
The interns work closely with DCNR staff. Brent noticed how nervous they were during their interviews and how – as with most who step out of their comfort zone – shyness nipped at their heels for the first few days.
Yet, Brent has enjoyed seeing An Binh and Lissette come out of their shells and develop friendships as the summer continues. They smile, laugh, and exchange friendly banter. They are excited about their duties and the future.
Sarah says, “As the summer progresses and they are more comfortable with one another, the job, and the staff here, I have been so impressed with the interesting observations and connections they are making with the resource.”
When a visitor knocks on the mansion door in search of a stamp for her Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Passport, they attend to her and leave her beaming.
If the interns could sum up the experience in two words they’d choose, “adventurous” and “interesting.”
Lissette says, “It’s a fun experience that exposes you to nature and can help guide you to a career in the future,” before adding, “even if you end up not liking the outdoors, you’ll still gain something from the experience. You’ll know whether you still want to pursue something in conservation or if you want to take a different route.”
“It’s not just being a ranger, you can teach, interact with kids and families, solve problems, and fix things. You can find your interests and focus on that,” An Binh agrees.
After she graduates high school, An Binh wants to study medicine. In the short term, she’s particularly excited about “The Bats of Nolde Forest” where PA Bat Rescue presents the different bats that they work with and releases rehabilitated bats back into the wild.
For her part, Lissette is looking forward to experiencing paddleboarding. She wants to be a veterinarian and the internship has led her to consider being a wildlife veterinarian, perhaps working for the National Park Service someday.
If you are considering doing a DCNR internship, Lissette has some advice for you: “Put yourself out there and go for it!”
Brian Swift is the Public Engagement Coordinator at the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests foundation. Subscribe to our weekly e-blast to stay up to date on News, Events, and Blog posts!