Reflections on the 2023 Zoo Conservation Internship

Mar 6, 2024Fundraising, Internships

December 28th, 2023

To The Denver Mountain Parks Foundation,

Now that I come to the end of the 2023 internship, I wanted to begin my reflection with an enormous thank you to all the people who made this opportunity possible and helped guide me through this incredible learning experience. What a year it has been! From the prairie to mountain peaks 14000’ high, from bison herds to bighorn sheep and mountain goats, from office work to long field days in the height of summer, I have loved every moment of this experience.

Last I wrote a reflection, I was anxious and eager to begin a summer full of research and field work. Now, having made it through the field season, I am left feeling an immense sense of belonging in the STEM field, a renewed sense of motivation to continue towards my end career goal, and a great deal more confident that I am entirely capable of continuing research and developing into a very successful scientist as time goes on.

This position has helped me develop multiple valuable skill sets that I can take with me into future opportunities and apply to my everyday academic schedule. The largest of these would have to be my ability to dedicate the hours necessary for data collection and navigate a diverse range of work environments while maintaining a flexible and problem-solving mindset for when things perhaps don’t go according to plan.

I have met some amazing individuals along the way, some of whom I was given the opportunity to teach about the research being conducted by Denver Mountain Parks and the Denver Zoo Field Conservation Team, and some, in fact, most, that have taught me about how many options for research there are out there and how to present myself appropriately and confidently in the research world. I have learned valuable lessons regarding science, but most importantly, about life and how to continue growing and advocating for myself, especially as a woman in STEM.

Some favorite moments from this year include pretty much any day out in the field with Kate Wilkins and Tim Luethke, who can make any long drive to Daniel’s or Northern Colorado full of laughter and good times! I also particularly loved my time up in the Alpine observing mountain goat and bighorn sheep behavior. As an undergraduate working towards a wildlife conservation degree, the time I spent up at Mount Blue Sky really helped solidify that I am on the correct degree path and that I am exactly where I need to be to create a future of my dreams for myself. With the research up at Mount Blue Sky, I loved being able to take up the Denver Mountain Parks high school intern as well and have the opportunity to discuss and answer questions about continuing higher education and pursuing a biology degree with Audrey.

It was not always sunshine though, as life never is. Some struggles I did not expect to face but did throughout the field season included having to readjust finances and stretch less money farther to be able to cover bills. As well as literal days that were not sunshine and having to adjust field days according to weather conditions while working in environments that require safety as a main priority. Some advice I would leave with you all for the next year of interns is more diversity in off-season tasks, perhaps a greater balance between wildlife photo analysis and data analysis/quality checking data, and offering close to but not quite full-time field season hours to allow interns to maintain a part-time job during the summer on the side if they are already working somewhere else that they do not want to quit to help pay for living expenses. I also do not know if there is a way to get around the element of driving for this position, as I have had a number of peers that would have liked to have applied for this position for 2024 but felt as though they could not due to not having a driver’s license or comfortability with driving long distances for field days.

Overall, this experience was one for the books, and I will never forget my time working with Denver Zoo and Denver Mountain Parks. This has been such a remarkable experience, and it is so bittersweet to be reaching the end of it. I cannot express my gratitude to you all quite enough.

However, I would like to extend a very big thank you, especially to Kate Wilkins, for her continued support, inclusivity, and absolutely welcoming attitude this year, to Julie Krajewski, Stefan Ekernas, Tim Luethke, Katy Sanders, and Kate Fritz. Thank you all so much. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you all, and my continued success is largely part of my time spent working with you all. Thank you, thank you, and best of luck to the next interns coming in 2024, may you have as rewarding of an experience as I did and more.

Best Regards,
Megan N. May
Community College of Denver Research Intern