May 11, 2024

Life of a Youth Internship Program (YIP) Intern

By Demetria McDowell, 2021

My internship with Colorado Parks and Wildlife was been nothing like I expected. It was so much more.  Shortly before my graduation from college I was a nervous wreck. 5 years of intense study pouring my heart into a degree and trusting it was all going to work out. I always knew I wanted to work for CPW, but honestly a job seemed out of reach anytime soon. Until, I stumbled upon a job posting listed as “Instream Flow Program-YIP.” The job description stated things about water quality, water policy, water rights, and honestly a whole lot of things that I had barely brushed in my studies at school. This internship allowed me to step into an agency I had always dreamed about working for with the opportunity to learn about topics I hadn’t dived into yet. 

My first day at my internship I met my supervisor Katie Birch who welcomed me and so began my six month internship, little did I know I was going to do so much more than just assist Katie. The value in the YIP program is not only the specialty you are hired into but the networking, exposure, and relevance of all the other professionals assisted. Through this program I have added a plethora of primary and secondary skills to my resume, connected with amazing professionals who so kindly shared their knowledge of fish and wildlife management, and found a career path I believe is right for me.

My days constantly varied. Starting my internship in the middle of summer aligned me perfectly on schedule with the cutthroat spawn. I worked often with area aquatic biologist, Eric Gardunio, and his highly experienced technician Gwen Harris. My first days were at Woods Lake, a brood stock of Cutthroat for spawning. I learned how to drive a boat, how to back up a trailer, identify and spawn fish. I learned the proper procedures for fertilized egg transportation, backpack electroshocking, and how to keep weasels out of your Merwin net. I saw my first bear. Those days were a dream. 

Other days I scaled more than 1,000 vertical feet in less than a mile with stream survey equipment on my back, in hopes of obtaining water rights to protect sensitive fish populations for generations to come. That’s how I thought of it. Each day I was fighting the good fight. I was given the opportunity to work among my role models, to be a biologist, and protect and manage the things I love most, Colorado’s outdoors and all the critters that live in it.

Some days I set bear traps with DWM’s and learned how to investigate a property for signs of nuisance bears. I relocated bears and spent countless hours on ride-alongs asking countless questions about hunting laws and big-game management. I tracked fallen deer collars via plane and four-wheeler. Other days, I conducted mandatory checks on harvested bears or extracted lymph nodes of deer and elk for CWD testing.

Throughout my internship I was able to thoroughly develop skills in my field that will apply to my entire career. Going forward in my pursuits to be a District Wildlife Manager my acquired knowledge of fisheries and wildlife management will be rooted in this internship. I have developed and fostered relationships that are essential to success in conservation. Collaboration has been the backbone of all tasks presented to me as a YIP. CPW has taught me it takes a village to perpetuate wildlife resources for future generations. Not only did I acquire great skills from my internship, but the mentorship I received aided me in understanding how to take the next steps in my career. Each biologist, admin, DWM, coordinator and field tech has offered me advice and help for the future. 

Overall, I believe my time as a YIP has served me well and will continue to. I am confident that I have stepped into the beginning of my career and am now equipped to grow as a professional because of the tools my internship provided. I look forward to my endeavors via next field season and in my journey to become a wildlife officer. There’s still so much to learn but now I know that there is an agency of individuals eager to teach and help me get there.

~Demetria McDowell

A young woman in a blue coat and gray waders smiles widely as she walks through a large river with a yellow net. She is accompanying two staff members with large gray electrofishing backpacks. A young woman with a navy Colorado Parks and Wildlife hat holds up a fish and smiles as she sits in a raft on a river.