Jessie Ralph is a second-year Social Impact MBA student at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. Jessie spent her summer as a Consultant for the National Parks Business Plan Internship (BPI), during which she developed an asset utilization and prioritization process for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Jessie joined us at the end of the summer to reflect on her BPI experience.
What initially drew you to this internship?
I think just hearing the name piqued my curiosity. When someone was describing what they had done over the summer and said “I worked for the National Park Service”, I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting!” and I wanted to learn more. That led me to dig a little bit deeper and talk to a BPI alum at my school.
It’s funny thinking back on it now because I can’t believe I ever considered doing something else. I came into the MBA with a plan to do the [EDF] Climate Corps Fellowship and focus on corporate sustainability. That was an internship that a lot of people I knew in the space had done and spoke very highly of, so I kind of had blinders on. I told my career coach, “This is the internship that I want to do.” The National Park Service opportunity kind of came out of left field. It is an organization that is very much aligned with what I’m passionate about, that I have a lot of respect for, and that I would love to work for, but I had just never thought it was an option.
I think what really tipped the scales toward the BPI was talking to program alumni and hearing about how it shaped their careers. Everyone talked about how wonderful the people are, the variety of roles, and opportunities for long-term career growth, because you can move around within the organization. When I looked at the other path that was available to me – sitting in an office and doing greenhouse gas reporting for a summer – I was worried that it wouldn’t offer the same breadth of opportunity that was available through the BPI and would keep me doing the same type of work down the line.
What was the orientation experience like for you?
I loved it! It was like camp for adults and I think there’s something really special about it being work, but also very fun. I appreciated the structure-to-flexibility ratio where we weren’t scheduled 100% of every day. There were definitely some days that were really full, but it was nice to still have some time to get to know the rest of the cohort – go for a walk, go grab coffee. The cohort that comes together for this internship is a pretty special group of people. I’m grateful that we all had that shared experience at the beginning of the summer because I think those connections will remain strong.
What was it like to live and work in a National Park for the summer?
I was really intimidated by living in a park and the life change associated with uprooting myself for the summer. I had never been to Ohio, didn’t ever think much about Ohio, and I loved it – it was beautiful! Living in a park is a really cool experience that not many people can say they’ve done. We had access to all of these unique experiences in addition to our day-to-day work, like kayaking on the river with a river ranger and bird banding with the Resource Management team.
Our work weeks were spent exploring the park and talking to the different stakeholders, synthesizing what we were learning in the office together, talking through and brainstorming what our next steps were, and then doing some independent research and work to develop our tools and recommendations.
What skills were you able to hone or develop?
So many! After a year in business school, I had spent a lot of time on group projects, so it was special to hone and execute teamwork skills during the summer. I loved working with a new person who has a very different skill set and background from me and we found ways that we could leverage each of our strengths and learn from each other. When approaching our problem statement and work, we would share each of our perspectives, which weren’t always the same. When this happened we’d still find effective ways to come to an agreement and move forward, which was really good for me to experience.
I also learned a lot about different communication styles and how to ask questions that get to the heart of an issue from the unique vantage point of different stakeholders.
We also gained experience in learning to manage expectations around the work we would be able to accomplish over the summer. Other consulting projects that I have worked on in the past were long-term relationships, so if there was something that required a deeper dive, this could be negotiated. In this context, we had to think critically about where we were going to draw the line in order to be as effective as possible in a 10-week period.
Those are just a few of the things, but I’m grateful that I had the chance to work on them because I think they’re really relevant to jobs I’ll have in the future.
How did your internship experience influence your career path?
It’s 100% changed because of the internship! I plan to pursue a full time role with the Park Service. The career coffee chats [with current Park Service employees] that we were encouraged to have were helpful in identifying just how broad the range of roles that exist within the NPS are. There are a lot of areas that I’m interested in and not all of them are directly sustainability-related, which is also surprising to me. Before this summer, I didn’t realize how much working for an organization that is inherently mission-aligned on conservation and the environment frees me up to consider jobs that don’t necessarily have ‘sustainability’ in the title.
What was the most valuable aspect of being a BPI consultant?
This summer I learned that there are a lot of big challenges facing organizations like the Park Service, and that it’s so important to be open-minded and think creatively about how to solve those issues versus retreating from them. There were times during the project when it felt like the problem was too big and that we weren’t going to be able to solve it, but I realized that it’s okay to just take the next incremental steps and move the needle in the right direction. That’s something I hope I take with me into my future career. Ultimately, I feel a lot more positive about the potential impact that I can have in my career than I did before the internship.
What words of advice or insight would you give to other graduate students considering this experience?
There are a lot of people who focus on internships that give them the highest pay and there are various reasons why people may need to do that and I totally get it. But I think there’s also something to be said for internships that give you great, relevant experience and I would say that this internship absolutely does that. You are not just a person filling an internship desk and doing mindless work all summer. You actually have a lot of agency and independence, as well as the ability to lead a very real, impactful project. For me, this experience was more worthwhile than a big paycheck this summer.
I’d also say that there’s value in embracing the unknown. Most of us came into this internship not knowing anything about how the federal government really works and I certainly hadn’t worked at an organization that was so complex before. It can be really overwhelming and intimidating. There’s definitely a little bit of imposter syndrome that will hit you, but embrace the fact that being an outsider in this context is actually valuable. There are a lot of benefits to a different perspective and approach to problem solving!
To learn more about the National Parks Business Plan Internship, please visit the BPI Page.