Abby Sherwood, intern at Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire, on a Demmer Scholars Program tour of the White House. Photo courtesy of Abby Sherwood.
BY ABIGAIL SHERWOOD
After approximately two years of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t know what to expect during an internship in Washington, DC. I knew the big city environment would be much different than in my rural home state, Montana. I was unsure if things would go back to normal with everyone working in the office, or if I would be unable to work in-person at all. I worried that if the Department of the Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire was working virtually, I would not get the “true” internship experience.
I was pleasantly surprised to find this fear would not become the reality. The Office of Wildland Fire staff welcomed me with open arms on my very first week. They even kept me busy my first couple of days before my government ID card and computer were ready.
This internship came about when I was selected for the competitive William A. Demmer Scholars Program, which accepts about 25 upper-level undergraduate and graduate students each year. Through a summer course and an internship with a high-profile organization, the program provides students with experience in policymaking on a national level related to natural resources and conservation.
After 12 weeks with fabulous mentors, I developed new skills and acquired lots of knowledge. I learned about major issues, such as climate change and opportunities related to wildland fire management, like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that was passed last year.
I developed important skills, such as summarizing an 80-page report in one page, turning a three-page report into four to six bullet points, and how to answer questions from members of Congress about wildland fire. I also learned the ins and outs of Microsoft Excel through the many spreadsheets I was tasked with creating or transforming. I never knew Excel could do so many things!
There were also some very unexpected highlights. One set of bullet points I prepared was read by the Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, during a meeting on wildland fire management.
I was amazed to discover I was also given the opportunity to gain experiences beyond the Office of Wildland Fire. The staff encouraged me to get out of the office and gain a more well-rounded perspective. After I expressed interest in possibly going to law school one day, they arranged for me to meet with environmental and natural resource attorneys at the Office of the Solicitor General and with congressional attorneys at the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs. They also arranged for me to shadow the National Park Service for a day, where I got to see several urban national park sites. The staff at other agencies within the Department were gracious enough to allow me to shadow them and answer my questions.
I was able attend Demmer Scholar events during the workday. Because of this, I experienced once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, such as meeting with Senator Steve Daines from Montana and touring the interior of the White House, which I had never been able to see during the five times I had visited Washington, DC, before.
All of this happened even without the pleasure of seeing everyone face-to-face on a daily basis. A hybrid work model did not prevent me from getting the “true” internship experience after all. The friendly and attentive nature of every single person at the Office of Wildland Fire made it easy to feel grateful for my opportunity to be here.
I can honestly say that I am very sad to leave the Office of Wildland Fire, but I am confident that this experience was worthwhile and the skills and knowledge I gained will make me a more resourceful employee as I enter the workforce.
If you or someone you know may be interested in finding an internship with the Department of the Interior, you can learn how to get started at https://www.doi.gov/pathways/internship-program.
Abigail Sherwood is a student at the University of Montana’s Davidson Honors College studying environmental science and sustainability with a concentration in sustainable livelihoods and communities and a Spanish minor. She was selected as a Demmer Scholar for the 2021-2022 academic year and completed her internship with the Department of the Interior's Office of Wildland Fire.