By Rachel Ingram, Volunteer Intern, U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina
I thought I knew it all. Only 22 years old, I had done more than my fair share of backpacking, kayaking, hiking and fishing. So when I, as a junior in the Mass Communications department at UNC Asheville, saw the posting on the internship bulletin board for an opening as a Public Affairs volunteer intern with the U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina, I applied immediately. I thought I was ready. I thought I was qualified. In short, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Right off the bat, I was shocked, considering the significant portion of my adolescence that was spent in National Forests, to discover how much I didn’t know about the Forest Service and its mission. When I began my internship, the first task my supervisor gave me was to read what felt like every single pamphlet and fact sheet the Forest Service had ever produced. As a result, I became very well-versed in the goals and methods of the Forest Service, and I was able to share that knowledge with students in multiple classes at four area schools, as well as local scout groups.
In all, I presented information about North Carolina’s National Forests to 12 groups across the Asheville region. Although many of these groups were small and consisted solely of students and two teachers, there were several occasions where I spoke to youth groups, only to scan the back of the room while speaking, startled to realize that the parents of these children were also listening intently. It was during one of these outreach events that the gravity of my responsibility hit me: I wasn’t just speaking to children. I was reaching entire families. I was honored and humbled to be the messenger of such important information.
As the semester wore on, my confidence grew tremendously. My public speaking skills were sharpening, and I had a better grasp on the material I was sharing.
Perhaps most importantly, however, I discovered that knowledge is a two-way street. While I was the one standing in the front of the room with all eyes on me, I learned just as much from these students as I hope they did from me. I hope I taught them what it means to be an intern, the important tasks the Forest Service takes on in day-to-day life, how to react when coming in contact with a black bear in the wild (or how to properly store food while camping in order to prevent such an occurrence), the dangers of wildfire and the importance of prescribed fire, or the process of revising a multi-use forest management plan. By the end of my internship, I had learned every single one of these things and more.