Rhea stands in an alpine wildflower field with pine trees and mountains in the background

A Summer of Joy with the National Park Service

Aug 18, 2023 | Alumni Stories, NPS BPI

Hi all! My name is Rhea Choudhury and I’m currently pursuing an MBA at Harvard Business School. I was lucky enough to work for the National Park Service (NPS) this summer as a Business Plan Internship (BPI) Consultant with the Submerged Resources Center (SRC). The SRC is the NPS’ national dive program, responsible for documentation, research, and maintenance of shipwrecks, reefs, downed WWII planes, boat docks, and everything in between. My role was to help them design a more sustainable operating and funding model to ensure their long-term viability within the park service.

Before I began my first year at HBS, I was a medical device engineer working on products for the OR and the ICU. This work inspired my passion for access and equity in healthcare, but I was not quite sure how to translate this interest into my future career.

I remember finding the listing for the internship with the National Park Service in October, and texting everyone I knew about it. “There’s no way this is a real job,” I joked with my friends. You get paid to live and work on a national park? Doing management consulting? No WAY. As a native Californian and landscape photographer, so many of my favorite childhood and adult memories took place in national parks. I spent 80% of the pandemic going up and down parks along the Pacific Coast Highway. Using business skills to give back to an organization that had provided so much joy sounded too good to be true.

I reached out to two HBS students who had done the internship the previous summer, and learned that yes, this was a real internship after all. More importantly, I learned that the BPI was very structured, provided high-impact work, and gave a lot of insight into the federal government. Both BPI alumni I spoke to also mentioned that the program both found and paid for intern housing, which was an incredible benefit. I decided to apply, while still looking around at different opportunities at healthcare startups or venture studios. I had been convinced that this internship was an exciting opportunity, but it still felt like my side passion project, versus part of my career search.

Long story short, I ended up receiving the offer from the NPS. I wouldn’t know what park I would be placed at until after accepting the offer, but options on the table included Yosemite, Point Reyes, Grand Canyon, San Juan, and many other incredible locations. I was in the middle of a few other interview cycles for various healthcare roles, and I was completely torn. Do I accept the role with NPS, or continue to engage with the career path I thought I wanted before school? So many second-year students I had talked to shared mixed experiences with startups, citing remote work, nebulous job descriptions, and lack of fulfillment as some of the negatives. An internship with the National Park Service promised solutions to all of those concerns.

I reached out to professors and friends, and even dropped into our career services office for a 5-minute “gut-check” to try and answer ‘is it okay to just follow joy?’ Was I giving something up by not pursuing healthcare directly, and doing something that felt fulfilling, fun, and exciting? I realized I had come to HBS to navigate new careers, but I also came to try and understand more about what drove me. The more I talked about this role to the people I trusted, the more I saw how truly excited I was by the opportunity. It also was the perfect role to understand more about public sector work by completing a fast-paced, impactful project. More broadly, I could learn how an organization like the National Park Service had increased access to natural and cultural resources for generations. I slowly came to see that if I didn’t accept the role, I would regret it.

I took the offer, and was ultimately placed at the Denver Regional Office to work with the Submerged Resources Center team. But first, the BPI cohort had a weeklong orientation in the Grand Canyon, where I hung out with other graduate students who were equally excited about sunrises, hiking, history, and government. Once I got to Colorado, I got to work with the absolute coolest group of researchers, who were passionate about shipwrecks, diving technology, underwater photography, history, and climate change. I ended up focusing on financial analysis for the team, and putting together various communications documents for them to help demonstrate their value across the park service. We presented to senior leadership, and were able to secure some major wins for the team and the region.

This summer, I learned so much about the park system, and even more about myself. During the week, I was surrounded by the kindest, most mission-driven coworkers. I spent my weekends exploring Colorado’s stunning mountains, chasing wildflowers, and of course, visiting other national parks nearby. We even got to go on a site visit out to Biscayne National Park in Florida, to observe the team in action, and work with a few community groups. I learned way too much about shipwrecks all over the country. It was truly an unforgettable 3 months.


Did I walk away from my summer with clarity for my career? Not necessarily, but I don’t regret chasing joy. I got to refine my business skills while putting them towards a goal that I cared deeply about. I learned that I thrive in settings that surround me with mission-driven people, and I cannot wait to see how that informs my full-time search this coming year. While I’m currently leaning back towards exploring healthcare, I’m leaving my eyes and ears open for more once-in-a-lifetime opportunities where I can combine both practicality and passion, ideally with some mountains and oceans thrown in.