DoD STEM program attracts interns to Pacific Northwest Naval Installations, Navy offers students experience in conservation


Eagle of Indian Island close up 3-30-17


SILVERDALE, Wash. – The Department of Defense Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program has a mission to attract, inspire and develop exceptional STEM talent across the education continuum to enrich current and future DoD workforce, interns at Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Northwest are experiencing this concept.

The Student Conservation Association (SCA) internship program is Navy-wide and was originally founded in Washington State in 1957.  It is also America’s first youth conservation program.

Locally managed by Cindi Kunz, Senior Biologist of NAVFAC Northwest the interns deliver nearly 8,400 working hours annually towards the completion of Navy Environmental Impact Statements, Environmental Assessments and Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans. This program supports the Navy’s mission while providing the interns valuable work experience in the natural resources field.

Through this program, SCA interns are selected to support Navy and Marine Corps installations throughout the country and around the world, including postings as far away as Japan and Guantanamo Bay. The SCA has long pursued the mission of “building conservation leaders” and recently surpassed 75,000 interns.

Interns provide natural resources’ assistance to full-time environmental experts and specialists employed by the Navy and Marine Corps. The students’ projects within NAVFAC NW include wetlands restoration monitoring and surveys for marine mammal, forage fish, bald eagles and vegetation surveys.

With an annual funding limit of $600,000, Kunz works with SCA coordinators and NAVFAC NW acquisition personnel to develop and award individual intern agreements for the Navy. These agreements contain the intern’s position description, appointment duration, and stipend for housing and food.

“The program provides a mutual benefit for the Navy as the interns obtain valuable experience working in their field of interest and the Navy completes needed field work toward the completion of ongoing environmental objectives,” Kunz said.

“The projects supported by these SCA interns demonstrate to future employers these interns have an interest in working in this field,” Kunz explained. “When we review a stack of applications and our candidates have similar educational backgrounds, the difference between those who get the job and those who do not, is their relevant experience and interest in natural resources conservation.”

This formula worked for recent SCA Navy intern Brendan Himelright.

Brendan Himelright, 28, of Cal State University - San Marcos NAVY SCA intern

Himelright, 28, has a bachelor’s degree in wildlife science from Virginia Tech. He earned a master’s degree in biology from California State University – San Marcos, in 2014. He worked for the Navy as a SCA intern for three years. Most of his work was related to wetlands restoration monitoring and vegetation surveys at Naval Base Kitsap (NBK) Bangor, Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island, and Naval Magazine (NAVMAG) Indian Island. He was offered an environmental planning position at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in June 2017.

Some of Himelright’s fondest experiences of his Navy SCA internship were made at NAS Whidbey Island.

“It was pretty awesome to hear those jets flying overhead at Whidbey Island,” he said. “Becoming an SCA intern has proven to be a good first step toward getting experience in the environmental world. Employers require education and experience. We have the education, but not the experience. This SCA internship opportunity helps fulfill the requirement.”

Sarah Maher, 24, from Harrisonburg, Va. Navy SCA Intern

Sarah Maher, 24, earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from James Madison University in 2015. In order to participate in her internship, she drove 2,800 miles in her beat up Hyundai Sonata from her home in Fairfax, Va., to Silverdale. Maher calls herself an “Army brat” so moving was no big deal for her. Maher has been completing marine mammal surveys by observing harbor seals and sea lions at NBK installations: Bangor, Manchester Navy Fuel Depot, and Bremerton. She’s also performed forage fish surveys at Bangor, Manchester, and NAVMAG Indian Island.

“It’s interesting, fun work,” Maher said. “Every day it seems we are doing something different. I’ve observed sea lions and starfish for the first time while working here.”

Jennifer Stottlemeyer, 25, a Western Washington University graduate and NAVY SCA intern

Jennifer Stottlemeyer, 25, graduated from Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and a minor in environmental policy. Like Maher, Stottlemeyer has seen sea lions near Manchester. “The sea lions get pretty loud when there are so many of them,” Stottlemeyer said with a smile. She has completed vegetation surveys, marine mammal and forage fish studies during her internship.


“Even a single SCA experience has a powerful influence on our participants,” said Jaime Berman Matyas, SCA president and chief executive officer. “We instill broader leadership traits, which enable youth to excel in school, at work and in life.”

NAVFAC NW has administered cooperative agreements with SCA since 1991. The current 10 year agreement between the Navy and SCA runs through 2019.

There is obviously a national need for SCA interns within the Department of Defense,” Kunz said. “It’s a very popular program for recruiting environmentally-focused interns for the Navy.”

SCA internships appeal to a diverse group of people. Sixty six percent are enrolled in college, 38 percent hold bachelor’s degrees, two percent have master’s degrees, and one percent has their doctorate.

While SCA and STEM are separate programs, SCA is helping the Navy in the Northwest meet STEM goals of providing these interns with valuable experience that propels them into the environmental field of their choice.

“I love this program,” Kunz said. “We’ve had excellent interns from the SCA program who are eager to learn and eager to work. We all appreciate mentoring these young people who have such enthusiasm and passion for conducting natural resources projects in support of the military mission.”

For more information about this story, or the U.S. Navy Region Northwest, please call (360) 396-1630, or visit:

For information on Student Conservation Association internship opportunities, visit

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