Fostering Future Park Leaders

NPS Academy Interns Gain Career Opportunity Experience in the Park Service


Developing a workforce that better reflects the rich mosaic of the American public is one of the National Park Service’s highest priorities.

That’s why, in 2011, the National Park Service and its partners developed the NPS Academy—an immersive internship program designed to introduce diverse young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 to career opportunities within the NPS.

Through the combination of rigorous training, practical work experiences, and teamwork, NPS Academy participants deepen their dedication to conservation, expand their intercultural awareness, and refine their professional capabilities.They graduate with a thorough understanding of the NPS’s mission and the competencies foundational to all NPS roles.

This mission excited leaders at Acadia. In 2022, Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider, Vegetation Program Manager Jesse Wheeler, and Friends of Acadia’s Conservation Projects Manager Paige Steele met with NPS Academy coordinator Deidre Goodwin to develop a plan to expand the program at Acadia.

The following year, Acadia hosted four NPS Academy interns, supported by funding from Friends of Acadia. Interns joined the Acadia Youth Conservation Corps, vegetation crew, trail crew, and visitor experience and education program.

Wheeler, who is passionate about the mission of NPS Academy, enthusiastically spearheaded program coordination in its first year. He arranged housing for interns, helped them navigate their arrival in Maine, and helped guide his intern, Chanti Max.

A junior at Florida State University majoring in environmental science, Max says the program helped her make the leap into NPS employment after a seasonal job outside Zion National Park ignited her passion for parks.

Chanti Max, left, a plant technician with the Acadia National Park vegetation program though the ACE NPS Academy, and Jesse Wheeler, right, the vegetation program manager for Acadia National Park, log the percent ground cover of glossy buckthorn,(Photos by Sam Mallon/Friends of Acadia)

During her internship, she assisted with Schoodic Institute’s glossy buckthorn suppression research, contributing to research plots by building fences and planting native shrubs. She also helped the park manage invasive species like garlic mustard, glossy buckthorn, bush honeysuckle, barberry, and purple loosestrife.

“Through my work, I learned about the different tools, methods, and times of year to treat these species,” Max said. “With the knowledge I gained, I was even able to get my Maine pesticide applicator license!”

Max also assisted with the “Save Our Summits” restoration efforts at Sargent and Penobscot peaks this summer, helping to organize restoration supplies and collaborating with volunteer groups to hike bags of soil up for restoration efforts. Through these projects and work, Max says she developed her teamwork and communication skills, and “really appreciated the NPS and my team’s emphasis on safety and creating a positive working environment.”

In addition to their direct supervisors, Academy interns are each assigned a mentor to give feedback, help build community, and be another professional contact within the NPS. Interns are also given opportunities to shadow other programs and initiatives within the park.

“My mentor, Bik Wheeler, Acadia’s lead wildlife biologist, played a crucial role in my summer experience,” Max said. “His expertise and willingness to help gave me clarity and answered my many questions about careers in resource management and the park service. Thanks to Bik, I had the opportunity to join his team for a night of bat mist netting and witnessed the surveying and tagging of four bats.”

Jesse Wheeler says mentors try to learn where a person’s interests lie and then provide them with first-hand experiences in different positions at the park within the umbrella of that interest.

Spencer Morgan, an NPS Academy Alumni program member, spent this fall and winter at Acadia working in Visitor Education. (Photo by Julia Walker Thomas/Friends of Acadia)

Spencer Morgan, the first intern to pilot a position in the NPS Academy Alumni program, joined Acadia’s visitor education and experience team this fall. Despite arriving in the middle of the K-8 field trip season, he quickly jumped in, learning program operations and helping in the field.

“Spencer settled in as a team member right away and brought a lot of energy to the team,” said Kate Petrie, Acadia National Park education coordinator and Spencer’s supervisor. “He contributed technical expertise with the software we use to create lesson plans and virtual activities for teachers. He also has diverse urban experiences that broadened our ability to relate to school groups nationwide.”

Morgan said the experience helped him not only further develop important skills in lesson planning and facilitating, but also “gain important perspective on the welcoming culture of more rural communities.”

Seasonal Housing Helped

As a residency program, a vital part of NPS Academy is ensuring the interns feel supported by a community of peers. It’s a requirement of the program that there be at least two people from the cohort at each participating park.

Since housing is provided, interns were able to build camaraderie by living together at the Storm Beach House. “We know it can feel isolating to arrive at a park and not know anyone, especially when you are the only program participant in a division. Ensuring that they all live in the same housing unit helps provide a built-in community during the internship,” Wheeler said.

With more seasonal housing available on the horizon, the park hopes to expand the number of Academy positions available in future years.

Friends of Acadia provided support and funding for the interns as part of its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and its goal of developing tomorrow’s stewards.

“When visitors come to national parks, it’s essential for them to see staff representing their communities and backgrounds,” said Friends of Acadia’s Paige Steele. “With the aid of seasonal housing, there will be more opportunities for diverse staff to work in Acadia. Housing access makes innovation in seasonal positions possible.”

JULIA WALKER THOMAS is Friends of Acadia’s Visual Storytelling and Creative Projects Manager.



1. Connect a diverse group of young adults sharing a passion and curiosity for careers within the NPS.
2. Deepen participants' knowledge of and personal network within the NPS by fostering NPS mentorship relationships.
3. Develop a network of emerging conservation and park leaders by building ambassadorship, storytelling, and leadership skills.
4. Create a more inclusive and representative future for public lands.