Earth Team Gallery
Paige McMahon Helping NRCS at the Vineland Service Center
Paige McMahon was recruited to join the Earth Team by NRCS employee Steve Hancock (recently retired) when she was working at a local nursery. Paige has been volunteering in the Vineland office since September, 2011, and has been able to use her volunteer hours to fulfill the required internship associated with her studies at Cumberland County College. Paige works for NRCS as a WAE (Work As Employed) employee when the budget allows, but continues to volunteer two days per week. A native of Cumberland County, Paige enjoys working with local farmers that she knows, and is enjoying meeting farmers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties.
Paige is ready for any assignment. Whether assisting Agricultural Resource Specialist Scott Boyer with field inspections, or independently inspecting Cover Crop plantings and Seasonal High Tunnel installations for various Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts, she is a valuable member of the Vineland NRCS team.
Getting Work Experience While Volunteering
Colleen Earp explains her experience with the Earth Team
I joined the Earth Team about a year ago to gain more experience in conservation fieldwork while looking for full-time work after grad school. With a background in Geography, I only knew that I wanted to help the environment for a living, but wasn’t really sure how to do that. I was immediately met with a lot of great ideas and opportunities. What started as helping one office with occasional conservation planning and clerical work became an awesome adventure in over 200 hours of greatly varied fieldwork through four different offices (so far!). It’s been really exciting to see so many different places and practices.
I started in New Jersey’s Freehold Service Center. I went with the staff for many conservation planning meetings, helping with surveys, mapping and GIS, and spot checks. I occasionally visited the Columbus Service Center to gain experience with engineering surveys. New Jersey has so much diversity in such a small area, so I was already exposed to a wide variety of projects focused on drainage, irrigation, cover crops, wetlands rehabilitation and wildlife habitats. It’s been very interesting to see the different environments and how conservation practices are adjusted to accommodate them.
In the fall, I was working in northern New Jersey a few days a week, so I decided to call the Hackettstown Service Center to continue my volunteering. I was taking a soil science course at the time, so I got involved with soil investigations all over northern New Jersey, including rural and urban environments. This has really helped me create a broader foundation (literally!) for understanding conservation issues. I’ve been able to help with soil evaluations as well as some outreach, helping lead a fieldtrip for college students and proctor the upcoming Envirothon.
After exploring conservation all over New Jersey, I found myself in Arizona for a few months, so what did I do? Found my nearest NRCS office! Through the Kingman Field Office, I was able to see a completely different side of conservation in the desert of northwestern Arizona. It was certainly eye-opening to see how farming, ranching and conservation take place in such an arid environment, especially compared to the practices I’ve become familiar with in New Jersey. I assisted with Natural Resource Inventory and learned about the desert’s biodiversity. I also helped with surveying on reservation land to prevent erosion of the dry, sandy ground under the rare but heavy rainfall. I mostly assisted with rangeland management projects, spot checking invasive species control and fencing projects.
Earth Team Facilitates NRCS Student Mentoring Effort
NRCS hosted three students from Rutgers University in conjunction with a student mentoring program created at the university. The program is called SCOPE (Science Career Orientation and Professional Externship). This program aims to assist minority students who are in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors of study and who are part of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program. This program is proving to be a great way to help expose minority students to potential career opportunities with NRCS.
Erin Bice, a Rutgers Alumnae, learned about SCOPE and presented it to the Civil Rights Advisory Committee as a possible opportunity for outreach. The Committee encouraged Erin to contact the program director, and before long she had met three students who were interested in shadowing NRCS employees for two days. Laura Coover, NRCS Volunteer Coordinator, helped Erin sign up all three students as Earth Team volunteers, and they were ready to see the NRCS planning process in action! Erin hopes this partnership might continue with Rutgers and become a model for other universities.
Thomas Cordon, a Burlington County resident, was able to shadow for two days over winter break learning about the conservation planning process, reviewing conservation plans at the office and touring implemented conservation practices throughout Burlington County, including the wetlands at the Franklin Parker Preserve.
Ebony Steele and Anastasia Millicker, located on campus in New Brunswick, were able to experience NRCS with the help of the State Office.
Ebony met Erin at the State Office to learn about NRCS, experience what GIS can do, and to learn about soils and the ‘cool’ soils investigation equipment. “This has sparked my interest in possibly exploring a career within environmental science and doing something outside of the box with my degree in public health. I will be searching for jobs using the usajobs.gov website as you advised,” said Ebony Steele after her shadowing experience.
Anastasia was able to meet at the Columbus Service Center to shadow a site visit to measure prescribed burning and firebreak installation in the Pinelands. Anastasia also visited with multiple employees at the State Office to learn about the career opportunities available.
Special thanks to the 17 NRCS employees that have helped with the program so far.
Worth the Wait—Years of Volunteering Leads to Job with NRCS
It may have taken 19 years for Loren Muldowney to become a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) employee, but in her mind it was worth the wait! Muldowney became employed by NRCS Marshall, Minnesota Area Office in 2011 as a Water Quality Specialist. A career with NRCS is something she had long desired and her dream finally came true!
While Muldowney was attending Graduate School in 1992 at Rutgers, an NRCS employee at a career event encouraged her to include enough soil course work to qualify as a soil scientist for the (then) Soil Conservation Service (SCS). Muldowney followed this advice and took the necessary course work, becoming increasingly interested the more she learned.
To further explore career work as a soil scientist, Muldowney became an Earth Team volunteer, and spent one day a week in the New Jersey State Office under the supervision of NJ State Soil Scientist Ron Taylor (now retired). Her work duties that summer included manually digitizing soils information among a variety of other tasks.
Muldowney credits her Earth Team supervisor and other NRCS employees for creating a positive impression of the agency. “Everyone there treated me like a potential colleague, taking time to answer my questions thoroughly and exposing me to as many interesting experiences as possible,” Muldowney reports. It was at that time she fell in love with the Soil Survey, a relationship which continues to this day.
Over the many years following, Muldowney worked as a soil and environmental scientist for a civil engineering firm, as a private consultant, and for the NJ Agricultural Experiment Station.
In 2010, she began volunteering again, spending one day a week at the Freehold Service Center, this time as a conservationist in training. This year-long experience proved to be a useful gateway to Minnesota NRCS.
Last year, Loren was on the move again. She made a jump back east in November 2012 to become the District Conservationist for Mercer and Lawrence counties in northwestern Pennsylvania. She noted, “Water quality is still an overall goal, and it is interesting to still be working in the Mississippi watershed after moving all the way from SW Minnesota to Pennsylvania. On the other hand, the landscape, climate regime and farming practices are entirely different, which is also very interesting and a learning opportunity. There have been many new challenges. Soils background and wetland experience is very helpful here where there is nearly all hydric or potentially hydric soils, land in the Wetlands Reserve Program, and a strong agency emphasis on Soil Health.”
Looking to the future, she envisions taking a role in encouraging others to become Earth Team Volunteers. “For somebody who has time to invest, it can lead to training and career opportunities. It’s a chance to work on real problems, do some real good, interact with dedicated, smart people, and become knowledgeable about natural resource issues of national scope,” Muldowney states. “Who wouldn’t want to do that?” But for right now, Muldowney is excited to be part of the NRCS PA West Field Team 1, and is looking forward to a full and rewarding career with the agency. We wish that for her, too.
All the best, Loren, and maybe we will see you back here in New Jersey someday!
A Unique and Productive Partnership
Shalaunda Gourdine, Mildred Lopez and Heather Kutassy started working with NRCS in 2011 through a partnership with the New Jersey City University (NJCU) Student Internship program. They volunteered additional time beyond their original 8-week commitment, and assisted four offices with fieldwork, ranging from inventory and evaluation to engineering surveys to a grassland habitat follow-up research study.
NRCS Biologist Evan Madlinger and Human Resource Manager Mayra Morales worked with NJCU to select the interns, and they were responsible for general oversight of their work. “They were a great group to work with,” said Evan, “and I hope they consider applying to NRCS in the future.”
To facilitate that possibility, Mayra conducted a USAJOBS.gov workshop for the volunteers, during which she reviewed position qualifications and the application process, especially from her HR perspective. “I believe we were very successful in providing the volunteers tools to pursue their goals within NRCS,” Mayra remarked. Paige McMahon, Amanda Hannen, Liz O’Rourke, and Julie Guerrara, also college students who had volunteered in the Vineland field office, the New Jersey NRCS State Office, and the Cape May Plant Materials Center also took advantage of the training provided by Ms. Morales.
NRCS Earth Team volunteers assist in a wide variety of ways, including field surveys, conservation planning, Geographic Information System (GIS) data layer organization, public outreach, and plant research.
No Office Work Please - Shalaunda Gourdine tells of her experience as an Earth Team Volunteer
Starting an internship with the United States Department of Agriculture NRCS, I did not know what to expect. The one thing that I did know was that I did not want to spend a summer sitting behind a computer, a telephone, or a filing cabinet. I wanted to spend my summer using my environmental science degree to continue learning in the field. NRCS helped me do just that. After doing research and informing myself about pollinators, the buzz of the season, my first day at NRCS was spent in the field. I got the opportunity to meet a producer who was receiving assistance on a pollinator habitat to enhance honey production. By the end of my first week at NRCS, every day was spent in the field. Also during the first week, the other interns and I were asked to complete a project that mapped all the grassland habitats managed under the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) located in Somerset County. It was exciting to receive an assignment in the county where I was born and raised. I was able to familiarize myself with wildlife habitats that I have unknowingly driven past numerous times.
As the weeks continued, working on the grassland project was a main focus; however, it was not the only focus. I was able to attend different types of training like conservation planning, and ruminant and equine nutrition training. I learned how to interpret a soils map to conduct highly erodible land determinations. I helped plan a wetland project, and few weeks later I was able to see the construction and implementation of that wetland. I assisted in three land surveys and a cultural resource assessment.
The amount of knowledge that I have gained through NRCS is unprecedented. I realized that working in the field and helping people are two things that I wish to continue in my career. By the end of the internship the only way I can describe what NRCS does is by their motto “We are helping people help the land.”
Working at the NRCS State Office in Somerset has been a great experience for me. I have been able to bring things I have learned in my classes at Rutgers University into the tasks I am doing here. While working with Barb Phillips, I produced posters for Cumberland, Atlantic, and Cape May counties about irrigation management, conservation efforts with erosion control and soil quality. I have learned about many of these topics in my courses in Environmental Policy and Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers. My academic background gave me a new perspective to design the posters to be used at the county fairs.
I also helped put together a Power Point presentation about the 2011 NJ Envirothon. I was unfamiliar with the Envirothon, and although I did not participate in it, I learned a lot about how the competition works. In putting together the presentation on the NJ Envirothon, I learned about the opportunities an organization like the USDA gives to high school students to learn more about natural resources and gain an interest in science related fields in college.
Most recently, I have been inventorying and organizing the legacy imagery that is on file at the State Office. This is an important task because I know that data for certain areas can be hard to obtain. Organizing this legacy data gave me a chance to see that there is a lot of data to be found and organized here! Finding missing data is especially important because some projects would not be possible if some of the aerial imagery is missing.
Learning about GIS has also been a very rewarding experience. I have realized that learning how to use GIS software can help me in the future. For instance, I observed how GIS was used for the State Resources Assessment (SRA). As a Planning major, I appreciated how GIS allowed NRCS to look at the state’s natural resources comprehensively. I also saw that GIS can be used at the local level, for mapping wetlands and sinkhole potential, for instance, which is important for understanding how development should be limited in certain areas. In urban areas, which I specialize in at Rutgers, GIS can be useful to map areas of lower income housing with chemical spills and higher levels of pollution to study environmental injustice. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to volunteer my time at the NRCS office in Somerset and have even registered for some basic level GIS courses at Rutgers for in the fall semester in order to continue my internship experience.
Note: Amanda’s supervisor, NRCS GIS specialist Trish Long, noted, “It has been great working with and getting to know Amanda. She has been a tremendous help with our GIS and soils data, and is always very enthusiastic.”