Hopi Kachina legend describes two spirit-beings — one without sight, the other paralyzed — who survived, even thrived, when they teamed up and shared their respective abilities. Tehabi is the Hopi word given to this spirit of teamwork and the name of a unique internship program at Utah State University that embodies this synergistic principle.
“Students need opportunities to step beyond the classroom and gain real-world experience; federal and private agencies need energetic, talented interns who will be future leaders,” says Ben Baldwin, Tehabi coordinator. “It’s an ideal combination.”
Since its inception in 1999, Tehabi, directed from the Department of Environment and Society in USU’s College of Natural Resources, has generated more than $1 million in paid internship opportunities for more than 160 students from Utah State, the nation and beyond.
The program has placed interns from 19 colleges across the country and overseas in assignments with the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and three private organizations in eight western states, Baldwin says.
“Tehabi interns have worked in a variety of resource management disciplines including range science, wildlife science, recreation management, hydrology, geographic information systems and more.”
Student participants begin their 12-week summer internships with a five-day orientation at Montana’s Grant-Kohrs Ranch, where they learn field skills along with management techniques in organizational behavior, public interaction and systems thinking. At the conclusion of their internships, students reconvene at the USU Bear Lake Training Center to reflect on their experiences and present final projects.
Tehabi interns get their hands dirty, yes, but the experience is about much more than simply providing grunt labor. “We put a lot of time and thought into pairing students and agencies in assignments that will benefit both parties,” Baldwin says. “Over the course of their internships, students will develop technical, collaborative and leadership skills with professional mentors. The intent is to create a network to support students beyond their undergraduate careers.”
Meghan Wereley, who interned with the BLM’s Elko, Nev., field office on a national Burned Area Emergency Response team in 2006, says she found friends, colleagues and mentors in the program.
“Tehabi helped me see what it would be like to combine vision and reality and shape it into my future,” says Wereley, who currently serves as executive director of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association.
Veteran intern Rob Peterson, now a Salt Lake City attorney specializing in water law, says his Tehabi experience was one of the defining events of his educational career.
“It broadened my understanding of the complexity and inter-connectedness of natural resources and the systems we devise to administer and manage them,” says Peterson, who served as a policy intern for the Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Sportsmen’s Association in 2002. “Tehabi helped me become more critical of decision-making processes and the incentive systems that drive them.”
Tehabi’s benefits extend beyond the opportunities it offers interns, says John Spence, a NPS terrestrial ecologist in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
“The program has been valuable not only for students but also for the land management agencies themselves,” says Spence, whose agency has hosted more than 15 interns in a variety of projects. “Tehabi interns have become an integral part of Glen Canyon NRA’s management.”
Other participating agencies also acknowledge Tehabi’s value. The program received the Bureau of Land Management's 2001 National Award for Excellence in Interpretation and Environmental Education. Tehabi has also been honored by the federal Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit program for fostering collaborative efforts between students and federal natural resources agencies. This year, the NPS Intermountain Region invited the USU program to submit a proposal as part of President Bush’s National Park Centennial Initiative. If approved, the project will enable Tehabi to expand student opportunities.
The NPS’s vote of confidence is welcomed by Tehabi staff.
“We’re excited to be recognized and selected by the NPS Intermountain Region as a model for education of future resource managers,” says Baldwin, who was honored for his efforts with Tehabi as 2007 Outstanding Young Range Management Professional of the Year by the Utah Section of the Society for Range Management.
Creating an environment where students, professionals and communities can partner to develop sustainable solutions is Tehabi’s chief aim, he says. “We’re providing the framework for agencies to mentor future leaders who can meet the increasingly formidable challenges of resource management.”