Meet Our STEM Interns

Each year, Wildlands Conservancy educates more than a dozen interns across areas of our organization. We love to engage academics because of all they can learn from us and all that we can learn from them! This year, we welcomed two women enthusiastic about pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) related careers to the Wildlands team, Brigid McAtee and Erika Schwoyer.

According to National Girls Collaborative Project, women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 28% of the science and engineering workforce. It is exciting to inspire females like Brigid and Erika to pursue their passion and curiosity for the natural world (and increase that percentage!).

Wildlands interns gain an immersive in-field experience – making use of our technology systems and amazing outdoor classrooms – all while making significant contributions to Wildlands’ conservation efforts across the Lehigh River watershed.

Meet Mapmaker Brigid McAtee:

Student at Bloomsburg University majoring in Environmental Geoscience with a minor in Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), graduating fall of 2019.

Here at Wildlands, maps are very important. They dictate everything from where stewardship projects happen to community trail networks. This also means we need a force for making maps! Enter Brigid! Her internship involved redrawing our preserve and easement boundaries from hard copy survey maps.

Her heavy lifting put property boundaries into usable, shareable files that well serve Wildlands in the field and on our network. Brigid advanced the accuracy of our property and protection area boundaries. She says she loved the experience of being part of the Wildlands team and the opportunity to support conserving land in her home area of the Lehigh Valley.

What influenced your decision to pursue this path in your education?

For me, science classes always intrigued me in my pre-university school years. I knew I wanted to be in the science field, and it became an easy decision once I grew up and figured out that I want to study and gain more knowledge of the world around me and how it all functions.

What made you apply to the internship program at Wildlands Conservancy?

With my studies, I wanted to take my awareness for the environment and do what I could do to give back to my own community. Wildlands is a local, non-profit land trust that conserves and stewards land in the Lehigh River watershed right in my home area. I wanted to work and gain experience where I spent so much time of my life and I couldn’t have asked for any better than the Wildlands!

What is your ultimate career goal currently?

Once I graduate I plan on going further in my education on the track of oceanography

What did you learn through your work with Wildlands?

An important take away from my internship with the Wildlands Conservancy was the first hand experience into all of the hard work done behind the scenes. Wildlands preserves a lot of land within 10 counties, and I got to work first hand with a majority of the people that make preservation, restoration and conservation happen all throughout eastern Pennsylvania. It opened my eyes to all that goes into preserving our lands and there’s so many good people keeping our planet healthy!

Meet Birding Expert Erika Schwoyer:

Student at Keystone College, double majoring in Wildlife Biology and Environmental Biology,  with a minor in Data Analytics, graduating 2021.

When Wildlands protects land, we don’t just leave it at that. Stewarding protected acres is critical to advancing our mission. The desire is always to strengthen, through science, the conservation efforts underway on our properties and easements, as well as to implement tactics proven through research to be effective. Erika’s internship focused on collecting bird-species data at our Pocono-based Thomas Darling Preserve. The information she gathered in our wildlife habitat management area is helping to direct stewardship practices going forward. Erika’s data pinpointed that the number of bird species in the managed area increased from 30 to 50 different types of bird species!

Erika’s research findings affirm Wildlands stewardship management practices, proving that our efforts are helping increase biodiversity and functional forest area. She says her time with Wildlands strengthened her connection to her desired career path … and left her a little wiser about bears!

What drew you to the Wildlands internship program?

I was drawn to the Wildlands internship program because I wanted to get hands on experience in the field while contributing to research that will be meaningful.  Other internships are focused on community education which is a major part of conservation work, but my true passion is actually being in the field and collecting the data that we educate people about later on.

What influenced your decision to follow this career path?

I have always had a love for animals and the natural world, so it was easy to decide that I wanted to be a wildlife biologist and acquire experience in that field as an undergraduate.  One experience that really convinced me to take this path was a Bio Blitz field trip that I took in high school where my AP Biology class traveled to a local nature preserve.  We collected macro-invertebrates and water samples from the stream, participated in bird banding, and identified plants among other things that were very exciting for me.

What is your career goal?

My goal is to continue on to get my PhD and become a research scientist.  I want to focus on conservation biology, as I have a passion for African wildlife.  This coming spring I will be studying in Tanzania for a semester, and I hope that this will be an introduction into a lifetime of African conservation, and global conservation.

What have you learned through your work with Wildlands?

I have learned a lot this summer being an intern for Wildlands.  First of all, I learned what it is like to work alone on a project.  Of course, I had careful guidance from my director, but ultimately I was responsible for making my own hours, developing my protocol, and efficiently recording my data so that it can be used in the future. Also, throughout this summer I learned that its okay to not know everything yet.  I was often stressed out when there was a bird call or sighting that I couldn’t identify right away.  I soon realized that it was okay because I was doing the best that I could, and I did everything I could to record calls and identify them later on which was a huge learning experience. Ultimately, I am fortunate to say that I am leaving this internship knowing a lot more about birds and scientific data collection than I did when I started.

What did you enjoy most about your internship here?

My favorite part of this internship was definitely my bear encounter!  Only a couple of weeks in I was greeted at my car by a massive black bear right after I had concluded my survey.  This was the first time I had ever seen a bear in person so it was very nerve racking, but overall it was an incredible experience.  On that note, another thing that I learned this summer was to NEVER bring a peanut butter power bar into the field in bear country :).  Another enjoyable part of this internship was the people that I met.  From staff to volunteers and other contributes, I met so many amazing people that I will talk to for years to come.  It was great to meet people who are in the field and have experience doing what I want to do.

Want to gain access to our awesome outdoor classrooms? Visit our careers page to learn more about exciting opportunities across different areas of the organization!