Spotlight on our Students: Birds, Bats, and Big Data

“The University Honors Program has helped me become passionate for cross-disciplinary study, something helpful as I observe the interaction between policy, science and stakeholder involvement.”

In this edition of Spotlight on our Students, we follow Daniel Choi to his internship with the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a part of the Directorate Resource Assistant Fellows Program in Hadley, MA. Daniel is a rising fourth-year University Honors student from Fayetteville, North Carolina majoring in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology. Read on to learn more about his time putting data science to use for the betterment of wildlife.

UHP: Daniel, tell us what inspired you to pursue this opportunity with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

DC: During my freshman year of school, I was accepted into a research and leadership development internship called the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program. During our initial orientation, I attended the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia, where I met U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee who told me about the Directorate Resource Assistant Fellows Program. This program recruited undergraduate and graduate students for a 12-week summer interview. Upon program completion and graduation, you are eligible to be directly hired into the Service. The Service’s mission, to “Work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people,” is truly unique and something I strongly support. The Service and the great people I have met within in inspired me to join with them in their mission.

UHP: That’s great to find an organization that has a mission statement you really identify with. What do you hope to learn from your experience during this internship?

DC: For my summer experience, I have been tasked with completing an overdue project for the Service, real work that needs to be done and will support and guide federal management decisions. Because this project is significantly more involved and serious than other things I have done, I hope to learn about how federal decisions are made and how they are influenced by stakeholders and science. Additionally, I hope to end the summer as the expert in this small part of the Service’s work.

UHP: Can you tell us about your responsibilities as a part of the Directorate Resource Assistant Fellows Program?

DC: The Service has been issuing incidental take permits to wind companies for several years. These permits allow wind projects to collect and remove specimens of any migratory birds that were killed because of turbine operation. In compliance with the permits, companies report fatalities back to the Service, with many also including data on bat fatalities. My job duties include collecting and collating all available data; running summary analyses and exploring relationships based on species, date, turbine information, foraging behavior, etc.; creating visual representations of avian and bat fatalities; reviewing the current literature on wind-wildlife interactions; conducting detailed case studies; and writing and presenting a final report.

UHP: What do you hope to accomplish working on this specific subject?

DC: I hope to deliver an exceptional final report, exceeding what has been expected of me. To do this, I have been seeking out new resources, asking unique questions, and trying to work not as an intern, but as an expert in the field. This report will summarize gathered data, explain regional implications, and help inform new policy decisions.

UHP: How has being a member of the University Honors Program prepared you for this opportunity?

DC: As a student studying wildlife biology, taking HON Seminars in metaphysics, linguistics, politics, and literature gave me practice in quickly becoming fluent in an area totally unfamiliar to me. Additionally, the UHP has helped me become passionate for cross-disciplinary study, something helpful as I observe the interaction between policy, science and stakeholder involvement.

UHP: What would you tell other University Honors students about how to get involved in opportunities to engage what they are learning in the classroom off campus?

DC: Andy Stanley, an expert in leadership development, says that knowing what’s coming next does not mean you’re prepared and that you can be prepared without knowing what’s coming next. There are certain characteristics that make a student flourish in an internship (or any experience). They include genuinely caring for the people you work with, learning to be an expert learner, being able to dive into and excel in something you don’t immediately recognize as interesting, and asking questions as if you were the least-informed person in the room.

UHP: It sounds like a crucial component is being open to the possibilities and being curious. That’s great advice! Speaking of, what’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever received?

DC: I think I can summarize all the advice I’ve received with two statements. First, passion is a posture, not a feeling. Being passionate for anything–a person, a cause, or a topic–is not determined by a constant feeling of passion. Your posture toward something determines your passion, and feeling often comes later. Second, don’t restrict yourself to your level. If you want to be the best undergraduate, instead be the best graduate. If you need practice applying for internships, apply for the hardest one you can find.

UHP: So you’re saying work at the level you want to be on, not necessarily the one you’re currently on. Daniel, thanks for your time and good luck on the rest of your project. We look forward to seeing the results when you return to campus in the fall.