Sally Nelson ’20, Chisago City, Minn.
Majors/Minors: Biology, Psychology; Chemistry, Environmental and Sustainability Studies

What responsibilities did you have last summer as a naturalist intern for the DNR?

I was stationed at Fort Snelling State Park in St. Paul, but because of intense spring flooding the park was closed for repairs for my entire term. I did get to work at Afton State Park, William O’Brien State Park, and Interstate State Park, as well as various city, regional, and county parks to make up for Fort Snelling’s closure. My responsibilities were mostly preparing and presenting programs at these state parks about natural resources, primarily to groups of children of various ages and sometimes their families. These programs were basically oral presentations combined with activities, games, or building skills to aid the learning process. The programs varied greatly as some were topical, regarding things like fishing (the thing I taught the most), bluebirds, snake programs (with a live snake), to more general things like nature hikes where anything along the way was the subject or when we were trying to catch anything that might live in a lake. My job was to prepare programs by researching a topic, writing a theme and outline for them; deliver the programs to diverse audiences; and be able to be flexible on the spot if something was not going as well as I imagined it might or if there were special accommodations that needed to be made for a particular group.

What did you enjoy about working for the DNR?

One of the most interesting parts of the job was working for a state department and knowing that my words and actions to a member of the public represented not my own opinion but the opinion of the department. In training, we discussed how if we say something about a natural resource, people won’t remember that an intern at a fishing program said something about it but that the DNR said something to them about it. Because of that, I had to maintain a professional demeanor at all times – while still having fun of course. It was awesome to wear a uniform and get to represent the department to the public. On top of that, I loved being in a state park all summer. There were so many fun adventures revolving around the plants, animals, and even mushrooms there that my job didn’t really feel like work most of the time. Also, my coworkers and supervisors were awesome and I hope to visit them at the park soon.

How do you think you grew as a naturalist because of your time with the DNR?

I grew as a naturalist by really developing my oral communication skills. Probably 90% of my job was preparing for, giving, or reflecting on oral presentations – sometimes with a visual aid and sometimes not. This internship really helped me grow as a communicator, leader, group facilitator, and educator. I got better at working with individuals and groups of all sizes (anywhere from two or three to 50). I also learned to focus on the needs of the audience as I was often working with children from schools for whom English was not their first or native language.

What were your biggest takeaways from the internship?

The biggest takeaways of the internship for me was how much fun I had and getting to see people learn about and get inspired by the natural resources. I truly had so much fun working with kids and families, hanging around the visitor center with my coworkers, and being in the environment of a park. I wanted to spend my summer outdoors and, although I was probably stuck inside more than typical years due to the park closure, I still had the opportunity to spend a lot of time outside soaking up the beauty of the park. Being trained on how to write accessible emails, use plain language, and how to deliver programs to diverse groups are examples of a few other great takeaways from this internship.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I am really interested in environmental education and in furthering my degree in biology, so I could see myself becoming a naturalist or doing biological research for a year or two before going to get my master’s degree in either one of those things. I find that I really enjoy being a part of others’ learning process and going through biological concepts with people, so I’m hoping that wherever I end up will allow me to do that. I can definitely see myself working for a state department again and hopefully will get a chance to.