For nearly three decades, REEF has welcomed more than 150 young adults to the REEF Campus to spend a semester immersed in marine conservation projects. This month, we highlight former Marine Conservation Intern Julia Walker. Read on to hear about Julia's time at REEF, and how her REEF internship helped to shape her career.

When were you a REEF intern?
I was a REEF intern in the fall of 2017, from September to December.

What did you like the most about your internship?
I really loved learning more about marine conservation and getting to dive as a part of that. I hadn't been diving in years when I came to REEF, but it was so amazing getting to dive again and muscle memory took over. It can be tough being away from the water out west! I also liked being involved in different things, like getting to go to the DEMA Show, doing fish surveys, educating others, and helping with REEF Fest. The internship gave me a little taste of each aspect of REEF and I got to learn a lot. I got to do some pretty fun things while in the Keys and with REEF!

Was there a goal or focus you had going into the internship?
When I was looking for internships and came across REEF, I was really drawn to the mission. I saw how REEF has so many components going, with education and conservation projects. I had been involved in several citizen science projects at Penn State and was really drawn to the Volunteer Fish Survey Project and the lionfish removal efforts. I love citizen science because it can involve so many different people, not just scientists, and gets them excited about making a difference. Going into the internship, I wanted to learn more about these projects and citizen science overall.

Were there any big projects you worked on during the internship that had an impact on you?
It was great to be a part of planning REEF Fest 2017. After Hurricane Irma, it was postponed to December. I got to help with various aspects throughout planning and then throughout the weekend. I even got to go on the radio and advertise for it! That was a lot of fun! I really enjoyed getting to meet and go diving with REEF members during the event too. It was a really rewarding experience to see all the preparations and thought that went into it, especially with having to change the date, and have the great payoff. Since it ended up being at the end of my internship, it was a great way to celebrate my time interning at REEF.

What are you doing now (May 2020)?
I had lived on the east coast my entire life, and decided to strike out on a new adventure out west. Currently, I work at Utah's Hogle Zoo as an Education Program Instructor in Salt Lake City. My main duty is going to 2nd grade classrooms all over the state to teach about habitats and introduce them to animal ambassadors like desert tortoises, snakes, salamanders, chuckwallas, and more. The program turns them into scientists for an hour to solve a 'mystery'. They have to sort a box full of various feathers, furs, plants, and pictures into piles based on which habitat the group thinks they came from. I really enjoy seeing their faces light up, watching them have fun with science, and watching them make discoveries. My hope is they will carry that enthusiasm for animals everyday. I also am involved in other programs as well. I am a part of a grant-funded program focused on nature play in a Title I school, which aims to encourage an interest in the outdoors. I am also in charge of a camp that teaches teens about being a zookeeper. They get to go behind-the-scenes and learn about zookeeping, enrichment, training, and even get to interact with some animals.

Since my time at REEF, I have held various positions. I was an intern at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida on the Gulf coast taking care of their ambassador animals, leading field trips, doing outreach at schools, and being a camp counselor. I also was an intern at Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake, working in their Bird Show department. There, I learned about training and helped take care of over 40 different birds. I also got to be involved in training myself, mainly by taking these birds out on encounters throughout the Aviary. I really enjoy educating others and sharing my love of animals!

How has the REEF internship influenced or supported where you are now?
REEF was one of my first internships, so I learned a lot and it helped me figure out what I like to do. I hope to work with and get involved with more citizen science projects and continue educating others about conservation issues. It also strengthened my skills, like communicating with others, species identification, my knowledge of conservation efforts, my ability to try new things, and more. I was able to carry the skills I learned at REEF into my next experiences, and be ready to 'dive' into anything new. One great thing, is that I can still be involved and am going on a REEF trip this fall!