DOINews: Bureau of Reclamation: Youth Initiative Brings Valuable Environmental Work to Emerging Scientists

Last edited 09/05/2019

Finding employment in a scientific field is not a particularly easy task. All too frequently, students are faced with a dilemma in which they are passed over for a scientific job because they have not had much outside experience. It boils down to a simple, “You can't have the job because you haven't had a job.”

In order to combat this difficult paradox for young people, the Bureau of Reclamation hired 22 undergraduate and graduate students under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for a program to sample and analyze Western waters for the presence of the quagga and zebra mussel, a devastatingly harmful invasive species. The scientific field is so vast and full of small tasks that students and recent graduates have a tendency to be shoved into dish-washing, data-entry positions. Through ARRA's mussel sample and analysis program, however, every member of the team is a vital part of the entire process and gains an exceptionally deep understanding of the methods and equipment they use.

While giving students their first hands-on professional experience, the ARRA program also prepared them for future careers in scientific fields. Employees quickly become experts in everything from high-end scientific equipment to boating safety through countless hours of real-world experience. They learn taxonomy and extensive ecological anatomy through the study of the zebra and quagga mussel and are trained on the upkeep and operation of complex scientific instruments.

The ARRA program even gives the employees the opportunity to travel to other states for reservoir analysis. Unlike a majority of laboratory jobs, the skills gained in the Bureau of Reclamation microscopy lab directly relate to future jobs and help to provide a wide skill set to the students.

Already, this program has been integral in aiding the careers of several young professionals. Former employees have earned positions at top-tier engineering firms and been accepted into graduate and medical school following their time spent in this program. It has proved to be invaluable background experience. It is also a perfect example of how the Bureau of Reclamation is an active participant in reaching the goals and objectives of the President Obama's Youth Initiative, which at the Department of the Interior has been prioritized to engage and employ more and more young people in conservation-related federal projects.

While the ARRA program has created a substantial amount of opportunity for college and post-college-aged workers, the program has gone a step beyond merely employing them. It has offered these young adults an incredible degree of trust. This trust has led to a unique and powerful job experience that will continue to reward them in their science-based endeavors throughout their careers.

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