Wildlife student welcomes demanding project

Posted: July 17, 2009

Wildlife and Fisheries student Kelly Williams recounts her internship with U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.
Kelly Williams, at right, and in the inset, helps U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials to build a wetlands.

Kelly Williams, at right, and in the inset, helps U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials to build a wetlands.

Recent Penn State graduate Kelly Williams' biggest fear for her internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was that she'd get stuck in the office at some desk job.

Turns out, she needn't have worried.

As a junior Wildlife and Fisheries Science major in the College of Agricultural Sciences, Williams showed up at the agency's State College, Pa., office and was offered a chance to work on the Quaker Run stream-reclamation project in Northumberland County.

The Fish and Wildlife Service was partnering with a township and a state nonprofit foundation to rebuild half a mile of the Quaker Run streambed that had been obliterated by strip-mining and to restore an adjacent wetland. Initially, the wetland was Williams' responsibility, but her role in the project grew quickly.

"Our original plan was just to restore the existing, severely degraded wetland and get it functioning," she said, "but we saw that there was a need for more wetland to protect the new stream channel from erosion caused by increased runoff coming from an adjacent food-service shipping facility."

So Williams, from Reynoldsville in Jefferson County, devised a planting plan and selected varieties -- such as blue iris, sweet flag, duck weed, soft rush and foxtail sedge -- for the wetlands. As part of the habitat work, she helped plant and build log structures.

She expected that.

What she didn’t expect -- but what she welcomed -- was a chance to get involved in rebuilding the stream. When the New Hampshire scientist who designed the project was called away, Williams found herself in the thick of the work -- and loving it.

"I thought that I would just be doing little stuff, but they sort of put me in charge of getting things done," she recalled.

"I got a crash course in using a laser level, managing a crew and directing the guys who operated the equipment and were actually building the stream channel," Williams added. "It was the coolest experience! I even got to operate an excavator, digging the new stream channel. I was the envy of all the interns when I got back to the office."

After graduating from Penn State Dubois in 2005 with an associate degree in Wildlife Technology, Williams earned a bachelor's degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science from the College of Agricultural Sciences' School of Forest Resources in 2007.

Williams -- who loves to hunt and fish, and chose her major because she wanted a career working outside doing "hands-on stuff with wildlife" -- is still dodging the desk job as the watershed specialist for the Clearfield County Conservation District.