Students Find Value in Environmental Internships

CSU Stanislaus' Aldo Garcia (from left), Oleta Piecuch, Michael Machado and Joshua Buchanan took part in the USDA's Watershed Management Internship program last year.

Aldo Garcia spent much of his childhood camping, hiking and hunting with his father in the Sierra Nevada. Now the CSU Stanislaus senior is hoping a recent internship will enable him to turn his passion for the outdoors into a rewarding career.

Garcia, a geography major from Patterson, is one of several CSU Stanislaus students who are gaining valuable, real-world experience in environmental sciences and management, thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Watershed Management Internship program.

The program, open to California State University campuses federally designated as Hispanic-Serving Institutions — CSU Stanislaus among them — is designed to lead underrepresented students into USDA careers by increasing their encouragement, retention and graduation rates.

Garcia was part of the first cohort of CSU Stanislaus students — along with Oleta Piecuch, Michael Machado and Joshua Buchanan — to take part in the program last year. Advised by geography professors Peggy Hauselt and Austin Avwunudiogba, the team used geographic information systems (GIS) software to create elevation, slope and aspect maps of the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne River watersheds.

"I was able to conduct field work, use geospatial technology and learn about various National Forest projects," Garcia said. "It was exciting, because the maps they use looked similar to various projects I have done at CSU Stanislaus. I consider this internship with the USDA as my gateway to the National Forest."

In addition to obtaining and analyzing public data, the team collected soil samples and measurements during field visits to the Tuolumne River watershed, where tributaries created by snowmelt runoff from the High Sierra join to form the river. Back in the lab, the students combined their findings with data from state governmental agencies and configured it all into a standard format for easier use. The team is working on a journal article they hope to submit for publication in the coming weeks.

The Watershed Management Internship program seeks students in a wide range of fields, all related to environmental sciences or management. Now in its second year, the program provides funding for 50 paid internships per year over four years. Interns perform activities involving various aspects of natural resource protection carried out by three USDA agencies: the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Agricultural Research Service and the Forest Service.

A second cohort of CSU Stanislaus geography students has begun work through the internship program. Machado, Julianna Aguilar, Pedro Chacon and Katrina Quadra are interning with the Tuolumne River Trust and working on advocacy for the river and teaching young students in the region about the river and how it works.

Aguilar, a senior from Ceres, is working with the Tuolumne River Adventure Club, which teaches young students to explore their local environment while offering monthly field trips to beaches, aquariums and other places outside of their immediate community.

"I've always wanted to stay in education, either as a school teacher or professor," Aguilar said. "But this experience is really opening my eyes to the kinds of things many kids are unable to take part in. Many of the kids had never seen the ocean before and were really surprised when they learned that most rivers end up in the ocean.

"I am extremely thankful for CSU Stanislaus and the professors who work here. Without them, I would have never been aware of this internship and may not have been able to gain such an experience."

Students interested in the internship program should contact Hauselt at