Crawling across cliff sides, driving along forested trails, fixing broken fence lines, creating public buildings and analyzing bug and plant life sounds like a typical summer for Southern Utah University students. But for 113 Thunderbirds, that was their job.
These 100 plus students were involved for the 2013 summer with SUU’s Intergovernmental Internship Cooperative (IIC), which provides students with relevant, meaningful work experience leading to career opportunities while serving the needs of state and federal land and resource management agencies in southwestern Utah.
But this is more than an opportunity to get an internship, for T-Birds the IIC provides a unique organization that works directly with land management agencies, a partnership that is rare to find at any other university campus, according to Anne Smith, one of the original founders of IIC and SUU Outdoor Education Series coordinator.
“These students aren’t just playing outside for a few months, they are able to get their feet wet within a legitimate field of study and create contacts that directly connect them with public land representatives.”
She added, “SUU is uniquely situated amongst some of the world’s most beautiful scenery, we couldn’t just pass up on this chance to effectively train our students for careers within these fields.”
And amongst the hundreds of students that have taken part in the IIC since its founding six years ago, more and more are coming from all across the University, not just within the assumed outdoor recreation department. Accounting majors are helping with finances, graphic design students are creating and soon-to-be engineers are crafting buildings, all for state and federal land and resource agencies.
Just one of these students is Caleb Smith, sophomore management major, who spent his summer interning as forest protection officer. With a desire to go into hospitality and tourism after graduation, Caleb knew that working for Dixie National Forest Service was going to greatly enhance his education.
“For nine-hours a day, four-days a week I drove ATVs monitoring trails and interacting with guests. I was doing something that people travel around the world to do, and there I was, being paid to do something that amazing. It wasn’t just playing though, I learned how to effectively interact with guests, solve problems and it all secured in my mind that I am going into the right field.”
He added, “More people across the University should recognize how great the IIC is and that it can be applied to any area of study.”
IIC organizers hope to continue its reach and according to Anne Smith there is still a lot of untapped potential within the program.
“The IIC began with a few of us sitting around the table and now it involves a 100 plus students every year, and we hope to continue strengthen our relationships with land agencies and involve students from all disciplines because everyone can benefit from getting involved with the outdoors.”
The IIC debuted on campus in 2007 by placing 40 interns and practicum students. And now the program has grown exponentially, with now more than 100 students actively a part of the IIC, but this isn’t a stopping point.
The IIC’s vision is to “develop public land leaders of tomorrow by being a centralized resource of committed and engaged partners.” Its collaboration provides relevant educational experiences and career opportunities to University and other youth in the region. The IIC encourages stewardship and appreciation for the richness of the region’s lands and resources. Through this work, the IIC makes a difference for public lands and aids SUU to continue to be the Collegiate Gateway to National Parks.