Paid student internships open the door to permanent employment

Published by Molly Kay on

Metal sign that says "Welcome to Umpqua National forest" stands on old wood longs next to a small stone brick tower. It stands on old grass. Bright green and vibrant trees stand to the right. There are evergreen trees standing tall in the background.
The Beginning the of Umpqua National Forest overlooking the North Umpqua River visible from Highway 138. Molly Kay/ The Mainstream

Editor’s Note: Co-editor Molly Kay was an intern for the Forest Service summer 2023 and will
return again summer 2024 to intern. Molly Kay has no relation to Tristen Kay mentioned in

Applications for UCC student-paid internships with the United States Forest Service closed on
April 11, 2024, with hired students beginning work on the Umpqua National Forest in June. The
first agreements between the USFS and UCC began in 2018 with two paid internships: one
agreement for Recreation Technicians and one for Civil Engineering Technicians. The 2024
season is expected to see seven UCC interns, two for civil engineering, one for facilities
maintenance, three for botany, and one for wildlife.

Three person stand smiling as they hold with bags of collected seeds near Windigo Pass. A tall evergreen stands behind them. To the left are a variety of trees.
Crew lead Tristen Kay, CBG intern Casey Mills, and UCC intern Molly Kay pose with seeds collection from cow parsnip plant somewhere near Windigo Pass Molly Kay/ The Mainstream

Partnership coordinator Jennifer Taylor, who has worked on the Umpqua National for over 10 years, provided information on the internships and how students can apply: “We try to have applications posted in the spring, usually in February or March, and they close in April to allow us enough time to interview candidates, make selections, and UCC Human Resources department does the logistical work of hiring the intern,” Taylor said over email.

In the spring term, USFS employees come to different UCC classes such as engineering and natural resources to provide information on the internships and when applications will be available. Job listings are posted on the UCC employment opportunities page.

The paid student internships allow students to qualify for a Public Land Corps hiring authority
certificate after completing 640 hours of work through a PLC program. “This certificate allows
that person to apply for merit positions on USAJobs. Normally, merit positions are only open for
government employees who have at least three years vested service, but this certificate allows
PLC graduates to apply to merit as if they were already a government employee,” Taylor said in
an email.

PLC certificates are good for up to two years once received, and people aged 16 to 30 (35 for
veterans), can receive their PLC certificate.

Three people face to the left as they sit on logs. One person nearest to the camera is cooking using a campfire stove. The other two people are working on other projects. They are sitting outside in the shade.
Supervisor Crystal Shepherd, Crew Lead Tristen Kay, and CBG intern Casey Mills prepare dinner during the annual backpacking trip to Fish Lake. The Botany Crew hikes in and stays for a week removing invasive Canada Thistle. Molly Kay/ The Mainstream

Crystal Shepherd, the north zone botanist on the Umpqua National Forest, oversees the day-to-day operations of the botany crew stationed at the Diamond Lake ranger station, fondly called the Toketee station due to its location. Two of UCC’s interns will work with Shepherd.

Shepherd grew up in Kentucky on her grandparents’ cattle and tobacco farm and first began work in Toketee in 2011 as a seasonal botany crew lead. “I kept hearing the interviewer saying these weird words… “Toketee,” “Umpqua,” “Idlelyd Park,” but the phone line was staticky. The first time I ever drove up the Umpqua River, it was May and the waterfalls were rushing off the cliffs along the highway, the river was a bottomless teal and there were rainbows everywhere. I knew that I wanted to be a botanist here one day. Ten years later, it happened,” Shepherd said in an email.

During the season, interns can live in housing located at the station and Toketee Lake. “I always tell people that Toketee is like adult summer camp. We live on the lake, we are surrounded by trails, and your parents might only come visit you once,” Shepherd said in an email. People living at Toketee can also enjoy the movie nights in the wellness center, bonfires on weekends and the community garden, “The Toketee Benefit Committee does most of the work to make living at Toketee cooler, so we just started doing a Monday morning breakfast burrito pop up”, Shepherd said in an email. All of the perks of Toketee can be enjoyed by employees after a long day’s work.

It is a sunny day. Two people walk away from the camera on a structured dirt path. To either side of them are vibrant green trees and grass. They are headed into a farther part of the forest.
Crew lead Tristen Kay and CBG intern Casey Mills hike the Twin Lakes trail on the Umpqua National Forest conducting seed monitoring and collection of native species. Molly Kay/ The Mainstream

Shepherd’s botany crew takes care of invasive weeds found on the Umpqua National Forest. “They are everywhere, so we try to draw ‘lines in the sand’ where we don’t always attack the biggest infested area, but we do treat as many small areas or sensitive areas that we can to keep them looking good,” Shepherd said in an email.

Techs on the botany crew will learn skills such as running a weed eater and identifying different invasive and native species. “We mostly do weed work in the spring and early summer when we can make the most difference before the weeds go to seed. When weed season is over, we can start seed collection season. Last year we collected 461 pounds of seeds from 42 different species. Perks of berry collecting season is the age old rule of one thimbleberry for the bag, one thimbleberry for my belly,” Shepherd said in an email.

The opportunity students have to intern for the USFS can lead to finding a career, as happened with former student Steve Moss who currently works as a trailhead and dispersed campsite technician for the Diamond Lake Ranger Station. Moss was a UCC student from fall of 2020 to
spring of 2023, when he graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Fish and Wildlife Conservation.

Moss was hired for the botany internship in 2022, afterwards, he applied for another seasonal
position in the maintenance department. “I fell in love with the forest and decided to apply for
another seasonal position; after a few months of working the recreation staff officer asked me if I
would like a permanent position in the recreation department. I thought about it and finally
decided to apply for a position and was selected,” Moss said in an email.

A new wooden sign that says "umpqua national forest campground diamond lake". It is standing on a tray inside a wood-working shop. There are other signs in various stages of construction.
New campground signs created this winter by Steve Moss will be hung up for the upcoming season at the respective site. Photo provided by Steve Moss

Moss’s current duties on the forest entail making new signage for trails and kiosks, repairing amenities such as picnic tables, and identifying and mitigating hazard trees in recreation sites. During the winter, Moss was able to create new campground signs for the forest. “I love woodworking. I get the dimensions of signs that have been damaged or that have rotted and then I cut the wood, router the letters, and paint the signs. It is very satisfying to take a few sheets of plywood and build something with your hands.” Moss said in an email.

The partnership between the USFS and UCC has had close to 12 students be employed for internships, and at least three people have gotten permanent positions from completing the 640 hour PLC certificate.

Contact me at:

For more articles by Molly Kay, please click here.