Almost a year ago, I was faced with the scary decision of what to do after graduating college. I had no idea what I wanted to do, where I wanted to live, what organization I wanted to work for. Well, I knew a little. I knew I wanted to help protect the environment in some way. Then came the even more frightening idea of applying for jobs!
All of the job applications – even entry level – required at least 1-3 years of experience. I thought to myself, “how am I supposed to get that first year of experience?!” Then, I discovered the Chesapeake Conservation Corps, a program partnership between the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the State of Maryland, and Constellation Energy, which provides young adults with a full-year experience working with an environmental host organization.
I was ecstatic. This program seemed like the perfect opportunity to gain a year of experience in the environmental field and to learn more about my visions and goals for the future. The next step was to narrow down the list of potential host organizations I would be interested in working for.
The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) stuck out to me from the list of potential organizations. For one, I was born and raised in Montgomery County and wanted to make a difference in the local environment I grew up in. DEP also offered me the opportunity to split my time working between the stream monitoring and watershed outreach groups, meaning a nice split between office and field work.
While with DEP, I have learned an immense amount about Montgomery County streams, and how DEP strives to protect and restore them. When in the field with the stream monitoring group, I aid in sampling for fish and stream bugs (benthic macroinvertebrates) and assessing stream habitat conditions. I was amazed by the number of “critters” that live in our County streams and how DEP uses these different species of fish, benthic macroinvertebrates, and “herps” (amphibians and reptiles) to assess the health of each individual stream.
Another rewarding aspect of my CCC position with DEP is working with the watershed outreach group to educate the public about what they can do to protect the environment. This includes attending and presenting at events such as the H2O Summit and Rockville Science Day. As a part of my outreach activities, I have developed two new programs for the County. The first is a volunteer monitoring called FrogWatch and the second program is a stormwater awareness geocaching program, Caching the Rain.
FrogWatch is a nationwide program run by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and hosted by local chapters, where volunteers are trained to identify local frog and toad species by listening to their unique breeding calls. Volunteers then adopt a specific wetland site in which they monitor for frog and toad species during the breeding season (from February-August).
Within the CCC program, each Corps volunteer must complete a capstone project. My capstone project has been developing a stormwater awareness geocaching program, Caching the Rain. Geocaching is an outdoor scavenger hunt in which participants use a GPS enabled device, such as a smartphone, to find “geocaches.” Caching the Rain will, in a fun and innovative way, educate participants about various types of stormwater maintenance facilities and their role in treating stormwater runoff.
I never thought a year ago I would find myself thoroughly enjoying every moment in the “real world.” I cannot imagine a better place with such dedicated and enthusiastic employees than DEP. I am proud and honored to be a part of this department and hope to continue my work with DEP.
Internships are available with DEP throughout the year, with the majority of interns working during the summer on stream monitoring and assisting programs. DEP also has many volunteer opportunities for those interested in getting involved locally!
By Virginia Vassalotti, DEP Chesapeake Conservation Corps intern