SCA All-Star: How Park Ranger Sarah Spragg Leveraged 3 SCA Internships Into her Dream Job


Sarah Spragg, park ranger for the Bureau of Land Management in Marina, California, sums up her job in five words: “Being available for the public.” In addition to her outreach duties, she also helps maintain the bureau’s facilities and provides special recreation permits for use on public lands. She is also the veteran of not one, not two, but three internships with the Student Conservation Association! We caught up with Sarah to get her insights into SCA internships and how they helped her land a coveted federal park ranger position.

From Oregon to the Everglades

From her time as a biology major at York College in Pennsylvania, Sarah knew that she wanted to get into the natural resources field and follow a career path that would allow her to work outside. While still an undergraduate, she landed her first SCA internship with the National Forest Service in Oregon, working in the backcountry noxious weeds program.

(Biologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon works on noxious weed removal.)

Once Sarah completed her degree, other internships were to follow. The next one took her to the Everglades National Park in Florida, for a six-month stint monitoring the effects of fires. “That was a completely different field altogether,” she notes. “Basically in my first day on the job, they sent me to take a training because on that same Friday, they wanted me to go up in a helicopter to do some surveys. I said sure!” She capped off her internship in dramatic fashion by making a presentation of possible invasive plants that could threaten the Everglades, based on her discovery of a forgotten memo she unearthed while reorganizing the office library.

(Trees in Everglades National Park photographed one month after a wildfire by Anna Lee.)

After Florida, Sarah was accepted for a third internship as a natural resource specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers. There, she worked on everything from a timber stand improvement project to prescribed forest burns, and even designed and wrote a series of informative brochures on invasive plants, following up on her work in the Everglades. But one of her most important internship takeaways arose out of what began as sheer coincidence: the proximity of her desk to the front-office receptionist’s. “She told me, ‘You have to post your résumé because you can’t be doing these internships forever!’” Sarah said with a laugh. “So she taught me how to write a government résumé, which is much longer than the private-sector version.” The re-write worked, so much so that Sarah left the internship two months early to accept her first job as a biological technician with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Advantages of SCA Internships

Why did Sarah keep coming back to the Student Conservation Association? First, applying to the SCA opened up a wide range of opportunities—with just a single application. “The SCA allowed me to apply to 30 different places a day and, just as easily, withdraw the application if the position turned out not to be of interest. It was one of the few places that had a stockpile of different natural resources positions. And the internship pays for my travel to and from the internships.” The other key ingredient was the experience she received. “The work I did with the SCA across the three internships really helped my career,” Sarah notes. “I learned everything from [how to operate] chainsaws to ecological monitoring – and it made me a very qualified candidate for a lot of different jobs.” In a job such as a park ranger’s, which might entail meet-and-greets to search-and-rescue and everything in between, having such a varied background was a definite advantage.
As Sarah’s story demonstrates, there is an SCA internship for practically every interest, providing a broad range of skills and training, a rich and rewarding experience at a cross-section of government agencies, and a door into the federal hiring system. Want to learn more about our internships? Click here to get started.