Four Virtual Interns Hone Their Talents at the Sanctuary

By Gabriella Ulloa

October 2021

sunset over the ocean

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary welcomed four virtual interns in September 2020 through the Virtual Student Federal Service program. Despite the global pandemic, this program allowed students to focus on projects that advance the work of government on multiple fronts. The virtual platform has a unique advantage for the sanctuary since outreach is no longer limited to the local area, but can extend nationwide. Although the 2020-2021 internships ended in May, the students' work continues to serve sanctuary needs.

"Our interns assisted us in reaching a wider audience, while celebrating the diverse voices needed to achieve our mission of marine conservation," said Anne-Marie Runfola, the sanctuary's volunteer programs coordinator. "The interns contributed with their unique specialized skill sets, all with the common goal of working to engage communities in conversations and solutions," noted Runfola.

Rachel Mehmel, the only intern who lives near the sanctuary, is pursuing a master's degree in environmental conservation with a concentration in water, wetlands, and watersheds at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In the past, she donated many hours of effort to the sanctuary and was named Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary Volunteer of the Year in 2018. This internship opportunity gave her a platform to do a more in-depth version of what she already enjoyed: identifying new ways to spread ocean stewardship messages while surveying emerging trends. Another task involved creating an education and outreach toolkit for new sanctuary volunteers. She hopes this work crafting educational tools and gaining experience with new technology (video making, computer programs, etc.) will aid her in pursuit of a career in environmental education.

Gabriella Ulloa is a student at California State University, Monterey Bay, studying environmental studies with a minor in environmental science. Gabbie works to spread awareness and educate the public about ecological and environmental injustices in order to move towards a more equitable future for all. With this internship, she has gained real-world experience in environmental policy and outreach using her skills in intercultural communication (she generated social media posts and Spanish translations). "Communication can break down social barriers that can otherwise limit influence," she noted. Gabbie examined the demographics of the sanctuary's social media network and worked to expand the conversation into new communities on both a local and global level. "In order for marine conservation to be successful, all communities must be involved in the conversation," noted Gabriella.

Leslie Baker Lyon is currently studying mechanical engineering and has a background in graphic design and project management. Leslie is interested in discovering ways that mechanical engineering can be used to help communities and ecosystems affected by climate change and hopes to have a career in service to organizations that are addressing awareness and action. "Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is doing such important work with regard to conservation, science, education, and outreach, and I was excited to use my skills toward furthering this mission."  Collaborating with ocean scientists and learning more about their research goals in order to focus studies around the latest research is a goal of this talented intern. Leslie also enjoys playing guitar in a band called Creature to Creature and hopes to play in the Treefort Music festival in the future.

Gregory Shannon is a communications major at La Salle University, majoring in mass media and journalism. He sees a career in television production and video editing in his future. "Videography is the first thing that comes to mind for me when deciding how best to convey marine conservation messages," he said. He has created a toolkit for the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary volunteer corps to assist in the training of sanctuary ambassadors and for outreach to students and the public. His first intern task was the creation of the video that accompanies this web story.

"We're very grateful to have this talented group of Virtual Student Federal Service interns working with our staff," said Pete DeCola, sanctuary superintendent. "Not only is this program delivering practical experience for the students, our staff is also learning a great deal from working with the interns while accomplishing our missions. lt's a total win/win situation."

Gabriella Ulloa is a student at California State University, Monterey Bay and was a Virtual Student Federal Service intern for NOAA's Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in 2020-2021

Update: The sanctuary welcomes two new interns for the 2021-2022 school year -- Courtney Townsend from Indiana University and Peyton Mills from the University of Kentucky