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My internship at the National Park Service South Florida and Caribbean Network
Biology major Kevin Montenegro

My internship at the National Park Service South Florida and Caribbean Network

August 10, 2020 at 10:07am

Name: Kevin Montenegro

Hometown: Miami, Florida

What is your major? Biology

Where are you interning? What do you do there?

The National Park Service South Florida & Caribbean Network Inventory and Monitoring Office. As a research assistant, I help collect, input, and review ecological monitoring data in South Florida national parks including the Everglades, Biscayne and Big Cypress.

How did you get your internship? 

I learned about the internship when I volunteered in the FIU Marine Macroalgae Lab which was my introduction into biological research and monitoring projects. One of my lab mates was a previous intern, and he recommended I apply.

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process?

Become part of the FIU community by getting involved in what is happening on campus. There are so many opportunities outside of coursework. If you want to get involved in research, a great place to start is to attend research seminars and network with students and faculty involved in research. Don’t be afraid to ask for opportunities even if you don’t have prior research experience! FIU is a great place to be introduced into research, and thankfully I was able to find a research lab that accommodated my busy workload and was very inclusive.

What projects are you working on? 

I'm helping the Community Ecology Team's Mangrove Soil Surface Elevation Monitoring and Forest Vegetation Monitoring projects. My work typically involves helping with collecting and managing data for those projects. I’ve also been assisting in testing and developing methods used to monitor environmental changes in the parks for those projects. Recently, I helped write an NPS standard operating procedure to store soil elevation measurement data into the online database. Currently, I’m helping to develop a standard operating procedure that instructs how to process data from sensors in the field that measure water levels in coastal mangrove habitats.

How does your internship connect back to your coursework? 

The coursework I took through the FIU undergraduate biology program helped me understand the language scientists use when discussing ecological research.

To build effective sampling procedures for our research projects and understand how scientists analyze data, it was crucial for me to understand ecosystem dynamics and have a strong foundation in math and science. I couldn’t have developed that knowledge without having taken coursework in these field.

What is the coolest thing about your internship or that has happened during your internship? 

I love having the opportunity to perform field work in the dense forests of the national parks. To access our field sites, we often need to go to remote locations to collect data. We will go into the dense vegetation looking for specific GPS coordinates to establish our study site. Just exploring cool sites and seeing places where not too many people get to go is my favorite part of going into the field. I love the excitement of exploring nature. I’m also inspired by the opportunity to do important work that helps conserve and protect the national parks in South Florida for future generations.

What do you like most about your experience? 

I enjoy watching the process of science work itself out. First, we get our hands dirty in the field collecting our data. Then, we’re responsible for making sure the data is managed and used effectively to help conserve these parks. Being a part of this team makes me feel like I am actively involved in protecting these national parks so that they can be enjoyed for generations to come.

What have you learned about yourself? 

This experience has reaffirmed my career choice. I feel sure about pursuing a career in conservation biology with the National Park Service. I have learned that I love being actively involved in the process of research and management of natural areas.

How has the position increased your professional confidence? 

Learning how to collect and manage data, prepare for field work, work in a team, develop procedures, and look at research in the long-term really made me feel ready to apply what I have learned to other career opportunities. 

Through this internship, I have begun to ask myself big picture questions about how data will be analyzed in the long-term future, how it contributes to other projects, and why the data matters. This approach to science gives me a unique perspective that stands out to potential employers.

How has it helped you prove yourself in the “real-world?”

This internship helped me use the research skills I developed at the National Park Service in a new context, which had definitely increased my confidence in the “real-world” workplace. I helped with ecological monitoring projects, including a project involving monitoring coastal seabird nests in Biscayne National Park. During my internship, I was selected to participate in The Northwest Passage Project, an interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists, graduate and undergraduate students, filmmakers and education professionals.

The Project’s research focused on the changing Arctic, and it has been funded by the National Science Foundation with additional support from the Heising Simons Foundation. The project was led by the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography’s Inner Space Center. The NPP involved an 18-day expedition aboard the Swedish Icebreaker Oden, during which the students and scientists collected samples and data in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. As part of this research opportunity, I worked on a team that was monitoring Arctic seabird population distributions in the CAA for the Canadian Wildlife Service. 

The research experiences from both the National Park Service in South Florida and the Northwest Passage Project in the Arctic Ocean have changed my perspective on how climate change has been making such a global impact, as witnessed in two vastly different marine habitats." 

How have you expanded your professional network? 

The team at the National Park Service has always supported me in the pursuit of other professional opportunities. They are constantly putting me in contact with potential employers and offering their guidance.

When I returned from my expedition with the Northwest Passage Project in the Arctic, the team at the National Park Service was incredibly supportive of my work. The researchers there mentored me a lot by helping me decide how to analyze data, providing feedback on my oral and poster presentations, and assisted me to map my data. My professional network definitely grew through my internship at the National Park Service, but more importantly I developed a team of mentors who are committed to my success.