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April 22, 2015

Aniela Butler: Demmer Scholar

April 22, 2015

Aniela Butler, a senior from Draper, Utah, is a student in James Madison College majoring in international relations. She participated in the William A. Demmer Scholars Program, which places students in internships with federal agencies or non-governmental organizations that focus on natural resources.

As I returned to Washington, D.C. over spring break, my thoughts went back to last summer when I was a Demmer Scholar and worked with the Federal Forest Resource Coalition and I fell in love with our nation’s capital.

The history, culture and spirit of D.C. are all exciting and made for an unforgettable summer. The William A. Demmer Scholars Program is in its seventh year. Students, like me, are paid interns at federal agencies or non-governmental organizations that focus on natural resources.

We also took a senior-level class in natural resources policy that met one night a week and all day Saturday. The program is led by Mark Rey, executive in residence in the MSU Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

During my second week in Washington, D.C. as a Demmer Scholar, I listened to a lecture and had dinner with Neil Kornze, the director of the Bureau of Land Management. We gathered in a ballroom at the Cosmos Club, a private social club originally founded in 1878 by leaders in science, the arts and literature, to listen to some of the highest-ranking officials in government agencies share their advice for the future. I love this stuff – government, the nation’s capital, agencies that work on policy. It’s how I ended up in MSU’s James Madison College.

It was difficult to believe that in just my second week in Washington I could have the privilege to get advice from influential people like Director Kornze and other influential leaders like the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the chief of the Forest Service and the deputy director of the National Park Service.

Our schedules were packed with tours around Washington. We hiked at the Grey Towers National Historic Site, walked around Lincoln’s cottage and got a taste of politics after touring the Capitol. Every week we had different guest lecturers that ranged from lobbyists and journalists to administration officials and even a Supreme Court Justice! Their unique and insightful advice was invaluable to a group of students looking to launch their careers in the next couple of years.

It sounds a little cliché but the best part of my experience was being surrounded by such a diverse and talented group of fellow Demmer Scholars. We represented universities from across the nation: Michigan State, Mississippi State, the University of Oklahoma, Michigan Tech and North Carolina State. Our group had internships in a variety of private organizations and public agencies including Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Learning about their work experiences was fascinating, and really helped me gain a greater understanding of the different organizations in Washington, D.C. It was like having many internships at once, and helped me define what I want to do after graduation in May.

The FFRC advocates on behalf of small and large companies that want to harvest timber from federal forests. This coalition works not only to promote the multiple-use mandate of America’s federal forests by promoting timber harvests but also by advocating for more effective approaches to battling wildfires, sequestering carbon and protecting wildlife.

My time at the FFRC expanded my ideas about forestry and allowed me to view various perspectives on issues around forest management. Collecting research, attending Congressional hearings, and listening to various lectures on forestry issues helped me gain a robust appreciation for forest management. I began the summer with only a limited knowledge of forestry issues and left with a greater understanding of contemporary forest management challenges.

Leaving D.C. at the end of the summer was bittersweet. I was excited to return to MSU and finish my last year of school – not to mention getting out of the blistering Washington heat during August.

When I return to Washington after graduation, my goals are the same: To work in a place that piques my interest, where I feel like a kid in a candy store. While I know that leaving MSU will also be bittersweet, I know my MSU and Demmer Scholar experiences have prepared me well.