How a summer working with a conservation organization helped me as a future journalist

Carys Richards at Waterton Lakes National Park, AB (Photo by NCC)

Carys Richards at Waterton Lakes National Park, AB (Photo by NCC)

January 12, 2015 | by Carys Richards

My experience at the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) last summer differed from most of our interns because I was rarely in the field. While most of NCC’s staff members are directly involved with NCC's on-the-ground conservation efforts, but the majority of my time was spent writing and researching stories from my desk.

I’m a journalism student in Calgary, AB. I spent my summer as an intern with NCC, working as a national communications assistant.

I grew up in Canmore, Alberta, with a backyard made up of the Rocky Mountains. When I was a kid, my parents recognized how important it was to spend time outdoors. Hiking and camping were large elements of my childhood, and later on when I developed a passion for horses, most of my hours outside of school were spent exploring the backcountry on horseback. I developed a connection to the environment and a love for our landscapes, as well as a sincere appreciation for the conservation of our natural areas.

I finished my first year of school last spring and came across the job posting at NCC on a website. Because of my field of study and my appreciation of nature I thought it would be a fantastic fit. Fortunately, so did Manager of Editorial Services Christine Beevis Trickett and Chief Communications Officer Jane Gilbert, who decided to give me a chance.

I began working at the Calgary office in June. My classes were set to resume in September, and it’s incredible how quickly the summer went. While most of my peers waited tables and worked at bars, I gained invaluable work experience at NCC.

My primary duty for the summer was to generate content. Although I have an love for nature and have spent a good deal of time enjoying the great outdoors, not only did I not know what effect the restoration of riparian habitat had on an ecosystem; I didn’t know what a riparian habitat even was.

When I graduate from my program in 2015, I want to pursue a career in sports. I love advanced hockey stats and spend my time in transit researching NFL player analytics to give me an advantage in my fantasy league. I’m a diehard Edmonton Oilers fan, I cheer for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and I rarely miss a Calgary Roughneck lacrosse game.

The first story pitch I received from a member of NCC's communications team was a story about greater sage-grouse droppings. Needless to say, this was completely out of my field of expertise.

I began my research with a basic internet search: what is a greater sage-grouse? For those of you who don’t know, it is a critically endangered bird, in serious danger of extirpation in Canada in the very near future.

My education on greater sage-grouse was the tip of the iceberg. Over the summer I learned about some of the rare species whose habitats NCC is trying to protect. I wrote about invasive plant species and even attended a few Conservation Volunteers weed-pull events. I now know about out property management plans, stewardship relations and numerous conservation efforts across the country.

I wrote about the decline of monarch butterflies and efforts to plant milkweed — a vital habitat for this fragile species. I learned about dwindling native bee populations and how we can help. When I’m out on hikes now, I point out bergamot and yarrow flowers and can identify a handful of common butterflies.

It was a summer of discovery and education, and I know beyond a doubt that I’ve emerged stronger for it. My writing and research skills have evolved beyond recognition and I’m more confident than ever that I’ve made the correct career choice. I love writing, and thrive on the challenge of finding story angles that capture and educate readers. Although I still aspire to pursue a career in sports, my time at NCC has instilled in me a new passion: nature conservation.

Most importantly, my summer has cemented the belief that I can diversify and succeed, and with the skills I acquired at NCC, I know I’m poised for success.

Carys Richards (Photo courtesy of Carys Richards)

About the Author

Carys Richards is the communications manager for NCC’s Alberta Region.

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