Maura Duffy (Marine and Coastal, 2014) plants a healthy future for the Chesapeake Bay
After hearing from Maura Duffy about her dream job, the ENSP Advisor asked if she would be willing to do a short interview about it. Many ENSP students have either done internships at the National Aquarium or hope to work there. The Advisor thought others might be interested in hearing more about what Maura was up to. Maura kindly agreed.
ENSP Advisor: First, congratulations on your new job! Can you tell us more about it – what you do, what you like about it, etc.?
Maura: Thanks! I am a Conservation Technician in the Conservation Department of the National Aquarium. I work on a team of eight people that aim to protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed and restore the natural areas that help clean its water and provide habitat for wildlife. I am particularly involved with the Aquarium’s Wetland Nursery program, which involves traveling to our partnered schools to lead educational classroom visits teaching about the Chesapeake Bay. I lead groups of students and volunteers in field events, including debris cleanups and planting native plants to restore habitat.
Since the Chesapeake Bay watershed spans 64,000 square miles and covers parts of six states, we often travel for several days at a time, which can be exhausting. Thankfully, there are eight of us doing this, so we share the work and support each other as we go. We work with regional and national partners as well as community volunteers and school groups to revitalize habitats, including tidal wetlands, forest buffers, and sand dunes, through cleanups and habitat restoration projects. I also write digital content for blogs and e-newsletters about our projects.
My favorite part of the job is that I get to work outside! I am able to see first-hand all of the wildlife that calls the Chesapeake Bay its home, and I am able to have a hands-on role in protecting and restoring vital wildlife habitats. I love the Chesapeake Bay, and I am so happy that I am able to share my love of the Bay with others.
The mission of the National Aquarium is to “inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures.” By engaging students and local communities in environmental education and hands-on habitat restoration efforts, we hope to inspire them to continue to make positive impacts on the Chesapeake Bay and on our oceans, which are both certainly aquatic treasures. It is great having a job whose work I so believe in.
ENSP Advisor: How did you get your position?
Maura: I was offered my position after I completed my term as a Chesapeake Conservation Corps Volunteer. The Chesapeake Conservation Corps matches Volunteers, who must be between the ages of 18 and 25, with a Host Organization for a one year term of service. Volunteers work full-time at their Host Organization and have the opportunity to work on a wide range of activities in the fields of environmental restoration, energy conservation, sustainable agriculture, forestry, community engagement, and environmental education. My CCC placement was at the National Aquarium, so I was very excited when this turned into my first job at the end of the year.
ENSP Advisor: How did you decide to major in ENSP? In Marine and Coastal?
Maura: I knew since early on in high school when I took a Marine Ecology class that I wanted to do work that involved water and wildlife. When I started my college career at Salisbury University, I decided to enroll in their Biology and Environmental Science dual degree program. When I transferred to University of Maryland as a junior I decided to major in Environmental Science & Policy with a concentration in Marine & Costal Management. It aligned well with my interests in the Chesapeake Bay and coastal ecosystems, as well as human connections to our local waterways.
ENSP Advisor: What kinds of internships did you have that helped you prepare for this job? Are there courses you took or experiences you had that you now find particularly helpful?
Maura: While I was a student at UMD, I worked two unpaid internships. As a junior, I participated in the Maryland Student Researchers Program and did a semester long internship at NASA. There, I researched trends in air pollution data over a period of several years and correlated the changes in emissions levels shown by this data with changes in environmental policy.
In order to fulfill my ENSP386 internship requirement, I interned with the South River Federation, where I worked in the field doing water quality monitoring in non-tidal and tidal streams throughout the South River watershed.
ENSP Advisor: What advice do you have for current undergraduates?
Maura: First, I recommend that you build relationships with your professors! They are a great resource, both while you are a student and after you graduate. Don’t be shy about doing this, even if you feel a little uncertain about it at first.
Second, even though it is difficult to balance work and school, apply for as many volunteer opportunities and internships as you can. The Maryland Student Researchers Program is a great way to get started; and it helps build your resume for more advanced internships later. MSR only requires 6 hours per week and is a great way to gain insight into various aspects of environmental work.
Also, joining related clubs and activities can be helpful. Some organizations like The Wildlife Society at Maryland or the Maryland Adventure Program combine fun and professional development activities. One-day service-learning activities, UMD's Student Sustainability Committee, or Alternative Breaks are other ways to develop career-related skills. Do things that are FUN for you, as well as “productive.” Keep in mind that there are many different directions that you can take in the environmental field, including community engagement, research, environmental education, monitoring, restoration, and so many others. Internships, clubs, and activities can help you get a better idea of the direction you want to pursue.
ENSP Advisor: Do you have advice for students who are just about to graduate who want to gain more experience before settling into a “real job?”
Maura: While it is sometimes harder to secure short-term internship positions after you graduate (many internship programs only accept applications from undergraduates), there are a few excellent long-term internship possibilities. The Chesapeake Conservation Corps is similar to AmeriCorps-sponsored programs that are available to recent graduates. The pay is low, but the experience is great! This is also true of the Student Conservation Association, and some of the post-graduate internships listed on the ENSP webpages. Several ENSP majors have begun their careers doing just what I did. Take your time; try not to jump right into something that’s not a good fit for you. As long as you like what you are doing, things will tend to work out for you in the long run.