GSMNP high school interns value learning about NPS careers, gaining friends, developing self-confidence

December 4, 2018

GSMNP interns lead interpretive session - NPS photo

Brette Pattillo shares the experience of the GSMNP high school summer interns. Brette says the interns were brought together by their intrigue and love of nature. They learned about NPS careers, challenged themselves, developed friendships, and became stewards of the earth.


by Brette Pattillo
Graduate of Swain County High School
Bryson City, NC
Currently attending Appalachian State University

As a native of Bryson City, North Carolina, I frequently visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and have been doing so since a young age.

My mom used to push me along the trails of Deep Creek in a stroller so that I could enjoy the vast world of green surrounding me, until I was old enough to find my own passion in learning and exploring all its flora and fauna.

I am lucky that Deep Creek — and the park in its entirety — serves my family in a way it serves countless others.

Brought together by love and intrigue for nature

GSMNP interns collect dragonfly larvae - NPS photo

The interns collected dragonfly larvae as part of an on-going GSMNP research project.

To me, becoming an intern provided an opportunity to reciprocate that service.

Each day of learning and hard work allowed me to grow more appreciative, more interested, and more dedicated to the natural and historic world around us.

Our six weeks started by meeting strangers all brought together by a love and intrigue for nature.

Each of us had sought out this opportunity in order to better our understanding and knowledge of the vast and intricate ecosystems that comprise the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Additionally, we each desired to see how the Great Smokies, an international marvel, is so successful in providing its visitors with memories that last forever.

Becoming stewards of the earth

We spent hours working together, learning together, and ultimately, growing together as stewards of the earth.

GSMNP interns check fire shelter - NPS photo

The interns, here checking a fire shelter, learned about many NPS career opportunities.

We traveled through miles of green corridors, spread tons of gravel, and learned about the biodiversity of our area.

And in the end, we had friendships and appreciation for one another’s talents and passions for the things we had experienced in our internship.

We had days when we sweated buckets together, hiking to ridgetops to treat Hemlocks.

We had days when we struggled just as much, taking on informal interpretation to herds of small children. (The photo at the top of this post is of interns leading an interpretation session.)

Everyone found joy in learning and experiencing the many facets of the National Park Service, whether it be its history, its streams or its forests.

And that demonstrates the loveliness of the Great Smokies National Park itself. There is something for everyone here.

Grateful for opportunity

The purpose of the program may have been to expose us to job opportunities in the park, but it provided us with so much more than that.

GSMNP interns collect aquatic macroinvetebrates - NPS photo

Collecting aquatic macroinvetebrates was one of many teamwork activities for the interns.

In our self doubt, we found ourselves to be stronger than we thought – intellectually and physically.

Through every moment of the six weeks, we learned more about ourselves through opportunities we never would have had otherwise.

Regardless of our futures — careers as park rangers, doctors, teachers — we’ll always share the knowledge and experiences of this summer.

We are grateful for the the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and for the people that show their dedication to it daily.

We are also so thankful for every person and organization that made this summer’s internship possible.

I am confident that my peers and I will go forward advocating and teaching others about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the environment at large.


Background of high school internship program

This is the fourth 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 other posts are:

Stuart Hemmer-Skidmore – GSMNP high school internship program provides career insights and inspiration

Lorein Helm – GSMNP interns join biologist to conduct survey of park’s fish

Megan Galloway – GSMNP interns practice search and rescue skills

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.

Interns gain an understanding of how the park is managed and are introduced to possible career opportunities.

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.

Erin Lamm provided the photographs for the interns’ posts.

FOTS helped support the program for 16 years, initially providing the salaries for the interns and then funding the program staff salaries. To help support programs like this, you can make a donation online.