Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow

By Rowan McMullen Cheng on August 21, 2019 in Blog

From land stewardship to project support, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation interns have left an undeniable impact on INHF and conservation in Iowa since the program first began 33 years ago.

These interns don’t go for coffee runs, they take out cedars three times their size, write grants for future land protection and craft inspiring conservation stories. As respected members of the INHF team, these internships have served as career launch pads for many past interns.


“One of the things I appreciated most about my internship was getting to network with conservation professionals,” said Amy Andrews, a 2015 statewide land stewardship intern. “I loved feeling plugged into the conservation community in Iowa. I think that was the first time I could really envision myself in a conservation career.”

Andrews is now a private lands wildlife specialist serving Clay, Dickinson, Emmet and Palo Alto counties. The position is a collaboration between the Iowa Department of Natural Resources private lands program, Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Conservation Districts of Iowa.

“Many of the initial contacts made during that summer became professional and personal contacts over the years as I worked in environmental policy and watershed management,” echoed Rebecca Kauten, a 1998 communications intern.

Kauten is now a PhD candidate in the University of Iowa’s Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences, researching whether salting roads in cities contributes to increased metal concentrations in urban streams.

INHF’s interns are privately funded by individual INHF members, the Robert R. Buckmaster Internship, the R.J. McElroy Trust, the Richard “Sandy” Rhodes Internship fund and the Svare Family Internship Fund.

“Our long-term goals for any type of experience for young people, especially interns, is that they are better equipped to enter the workforce in this area, that they have an insight into how the world works, to really see productive members of society, that it supports them in developing the skills they need to go out into the world and that you have a real impact,” said R.J. McElroy Trust Executive Director Megan McKenzie.

By the end of this summer, more than 350 interns will have joined the workforce as conservation-minded professionals, applying the skills they learned while at INHF across Iowa and beyond in a diversity of professions.

A 1994 program intern specializing in landscape architecture, now teaches that subject at South Dakota State University. Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Bergstrom.

“The internship is a great way to try out and apply classroom knowledge in a very safe environment,” said Jeremiah Bergstrom, a 1994 program intern specializing in landscape architecture, a subject he now teaches at South Dakota State University. “I took those skills, knowledge and my passion and was able to start really seeing how that could begin to transform and shape decisions and communities and really begin to interpret the landscape in a way which is meaningful but also informative for long-term management of the resources we have. For me it was just the ability to step out of the classroom in a professional environment, be welcomed and be able to really begin to make a difference.”

Since these internships provide the possibility to step out of the classroom and apply that knowledge, INHF interns can contribute in meaningful ways that best utilize or further develop their skills and passions. The internship program does more than provide guidance; it establishes life-long conservation advocates.

“Any good cause needs to have advocates who steadily speak up for it. Not everybody gets to be an expert on every issue so it’s really important that there are people who are willing and able to speak up and be an advocate for certain causes in an informed way,” said former statewide land stewardship intern and Iowa State Representative Chris Hall, who has served Iowa’s 13th District in the Iowa House of Representative since 2011.

For the interns, many of these hands-on experiences have helped them gain a greater appreciation for Iowa’s natural places and have also been personally transformative.

“My work with INHF made me into the conservationist I am today,” said Abby Zabrodsky, an Iowa State University student and 2017 land stewardship intern. “I was constantly inspired by the land owners we met while working - I realized the joy of conservation through them.”