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GSMNP high school internship program provides career insights and inspiration

September 15, 2018

GSMNP interns doing trail work 2018

Stuart Hemmer-Skidmore, a senior at the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences in Asheville, NC, participated in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park high school internship program this past summer. In this post, he shares the insights he gained through his involvement in the six-week program.

by Stuart Hemmer-Skidmore

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a name the majority of the people in the eastern United States have heard, is a refuge from normal life. Each year it offers an escape to around 11 million people.

GSMNP summer interns from NC 2018

GSMNP high school summer interns from North Carolina and park staff

I have been one of these 11 million people for the majority of my life. My first visit to the park was when I was in the womb. The first visit I remember was when I first hiked Mt. Le Conte at the age of 6. I fell in love. The air in the Smokies has a special quality — a certain almost electric draw that almost everyone can feel.

When I heard about an internship in the Smokies that allowed high school students to integrate themselves into careers at the park, I was enthused. Working in the park has always been something I have dreamed of doing.

This year I got one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever received. On May 17, 2018, Erin Lamm, an Education Technician in the park and the leader of our internship, broke the news that I got the job. I couldn’t wait to start, and the fact that it was my birthday just made it even better.

So much to learn about GSMNP

Even though working with the park has always been a dream, I soon realized how little I knew about it. It was immediately obvious that there was a lot to learn. The amount of different things that need to be done in the park on an everyday basis is overwhelming.

I don’t know how the park superintendent does his job every day. Just managing the 850 miles of trails, that need constant maintenance, seems already like too much of headache. Now imagine adding fire management, wildlife management, resource management and vegetation management to this trail management, and you can start to grasp how large the scope of his job actually is.

Impact of being an intern

GSMNP interns in Cataloochee Valley

The internship included learning about elk in the park. Here the interns are searching for elk in Cataloochee Valley. Photo by Erin Lamm

Working with the park, even if it was just an introduction, made me feel like I was a part of something much larger.

When it was all said and done, I think the things I learned and saw during this six weeks will stay with me for the rest of my life.

It was so satisfying to see the things I have learned in labs and lectures put into practice. It was also great to get to focus on one specific topic for the day, for example, spending the whole day treating hemlock trees with the vegetation management crew or spending a whole day identifying salamanders alongside a salamander expert.

This learning not only applies to information about the park and what it has to offer, but also information about people.

Interns as colleagues and friends

Almost instantly it felt like we were all friends. All with common interests and a common situation, everyone seemed to click. We all worked together with no drama.

Now that it’s all over, I miss every single one of my co-workers. Even though, professionally, we were all co-workers, it really seemed like we were friends before anything else. I wouldn’t want to have had this experience with any other people besides the ones that I had it with.

During the internship, I was always excited to go to work, no matter the distance of the drive, no matter the task. It was truly amazing getting to experience all these amazing things for myself.

My thank-yous go to all those who helped make the high school internship program possible.

I hope the blog posts by my fellow interns provide an insight into how truly magical these six weeks were.

Everything I learned I will take with me for all my life. I will return to the park no matter what. This place that I’ve always loved to visit will continue to be one of my favorite places to hike and now has even more of a sentimental importance added to it. I also hope to return in an occupational sense.

Everything about the Smokies is magical and this internship was no exception.

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This is the first blog post by students who participated in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Summer Internship Program this year. The students represent high schools in North Carolina and Tennessee that are near Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The program is designed to give the interns a little taste of a variety of activities that rangers are involved with – from fisheries science to botany to forest and stream ecology. The interns gain an understanding of how the park is managed and are introduced to possible career opportunities.

The photo at the top of the post is of the North Carolina interns working on the Oconaluftee River Trail. Blogger Stuart Hemmer-Skidmore is wearing the orange baseball cap.

This summer, nine students from North Carolina and five from Tennessee participated in the program. North Carolina also had three interns working with Asheville Greenworks who joined the high school intern program in the Smokies on Mondays and Tuesdays.  The addition of the Asheville Greenworks interns was sponsored by FOTS. 

GSMNP staff involved with the program included Erin Lamm, who supervised the North Carolina interns, Julianne Geleynse, who supervised the the Tennessee interns, Max Lanning, who worked as a Teacher in Parks, Joéle Emma, Director of Education at Asheville Greenworks, and Susan Sachs, Nigel Fields and the Park Administration, who supported the program.

FOTS helped support the program for 16 years, initially providing the salaries for the interns and then funding the program staff salaries.