Summer interns choose Plumas National Forest for life-changing experience

Pond FishingUp before the dawn. In the summertime. Clambering into a truck and rumbling down a highway, then over dirt roads. Clambering back out and stepping into hip waders while the sun just begins to peek over the horizon. By the time its whole orb is visible in the east, Justine Lee and Wayne Castellino have already surveyed three meadow ponds for dissolved oxygen levels, crucial information for maintaining healthy fish populations on the Plumas National Forest.

And that’s just before breakfast.

This is the life of interns from Feather River College working on the PNF in a variety of fields, from wildlife biology and forestry to geographical information systems and road maintenance. Lee and Castellino, both seniors at FRC, are two of 20 interns on the forest this summer.

“I enjoy working outside,” said Lee. “And the process of working with a government agency is a great learning experience.” For Castellino, the chance to gain hands-on experience motivated him to seek an internship with the Forest Service.

“I wanted the opportunity to work in a field I’m interested in; to interact with professionals in the field and see what the job is like,” said Castellino.

It’s not only the interns who benefit from the partnership. Matthew Johnson, intern coordinator for the Plumas National Forest, acknowledges the agency’s public interest in developing long-term forest caretakers.

“We’re involving the local community in the stewardship of our forest,” said Johnson. “By getting these students the experience and training they need, and by working with the college, we can help them succeed in acquiring jobs locally or with the Forest Service.”

According to Rick Leonhardt, intern coordinator for Feather River College, an internship teaches valuable “soft skills” applicable to any work environment, such as resilience, self-awareness, and empathy.

“The interns have to get out into the field and do real work,” said Leonhardt. “And then we get them in the classroom and go over real events that happened and how they handled those situations.

“So when they finish this program, they’re much more marketable as employees,” said Leonhardt.

The partnership between Plumas National Forest and Feather River College is a recent venture, having begun in 2014. But it has already begun to reap dividends for the interns who now have valuable hands-on experience in their fields. In addition to the skills and experience, interns with the Forest are also paid for their time.

“As far as summer jobs go, you can’t get much better than this,” said Castellino. “You go to bed at night feeling like you’ve contributed something good.

“It’s such a great prelude to our future careers,” said Castellino.

For more information about FRC internships available on the Plumas National Forest, please contact Leonhardt at (530) 283-0202, extension 358, or Johnson at (530) 283-7827.