The Value of an Intern Program at Shenandoah Valley SWCD

The VASWCD is kicking off a new spotlight story article series of which we’ll focus on sharing with you the innovative programs and efforts of a district on a quarterly basis. Our first feature story highlights the details and value of the Shenandoah Valley internship program.
 
The Shenandoah Valley SWCD  internship program provides students with hands on experience in the field of conservation. From normal administrative responsibilities to exposure to real life situations, projects, activities, and working with other USDA agencies, students experience the process of conservation projects.
 
Megen Dalton, District Manager, stated that the success of the district internship program comes from proper organization and tailoring to the individual student. The SVSWCD encourages students to set a schedule for planning and organizing work. This helps not only the student but the district accomplish its projects and allows the students to get the most out of their internship. Megen Dalton and Blake Rogers, District Outreach Coordinator, work individually with each student to determine what type of work they are interested in and capable of doing. Megen stated, “It’s important to tailor the work to the student so that they enjoy it and the SSWCD gets a good product.” Students enjoy their internship and many extend their internship for a 2nd semester.
 
The SVSWCD works with local colleges and universities to recruit interns, sometimes providing course credits and “scholarships.” The district has established position descriptions, internship announcements, evaluations forms, and other documents to standardize and streamline their internship program. Many of these documents, provided by the SVSWCD, can be found on the VASWCD website under Current Issues and Press.  Students that can receive course credits for their internship need to complete a set number of hours to receive credit and it is important for the district to work closely with the institution of higher education.  The district also provides regular evaluations. As an added bonus, some students who volunteer over 100 hours are sometimes eligible for $250 to $750 depending on the amount of time volunteered.
 
Students assist with a wide variety of projects at the SVSWCD. Students complete administrative duties that could include working on website updates and maintenance, and filing. This allows students to see what goes into planning; including looking at threatened and endangered species and cultural resources. Interns help with field work and site visits during construction and installation of projects, along with taking measurements of completed projects. This allows students to learn about programs and how to implement them. Students also help with cover crop paperwork processing, spot checks, payment calculations, and tracking data entry. Interns also assist with the Pre-Sidedress Nitrate Test program. Some interns help with educational work, presentations, and events and programs such as coordinating an Envirothon training or competition at the local or area level. Interns also help man booths at various events.  Students provide a unique dynamic to districts. Megen explained the district intern program brings talented students who offer new knowledge, skills and fresh thinking.

Interns and volunteers are great for increasing SWCD recognition with other schools and organizations. Past Shenandoah Valley interns have listed the district internship on their job application and received jobs with the United States Forest Service and the waste water treatment plants, helping to gain additional recognition.Districts don’t need to have a lot to provide a beneficial and successful internship or volunteer program. Students and volunteers can assist in what a district is already doing and provide valuable help in the field and in the office.  Other programs such as National Resources Conservation Service’s Earth Team, can provide benefits to district volunteers. Earth Team provides registered volunteers authorized use of government vehicles and equipment and protection under the federal Worker’s Compensation Program and Tort Claims Act. Registered volunteers are also eligible to compete for state and national Earth Team awards and can be highlighted in state and national publications.  If your district is interested in gaining more information about improving or starting a internship or volunteer program contact the VASWCD or Megan Dalton or Blake Rogers of the Shenandoah Valley SWCD at (540) 433-2853 Ext. 3 or by email at megen.dalton@svswcd.org and blake.rogers@svswcd.org. More information about Earth Team and how to register your volunteers can be found atwww.nrcs.usda.gov