Copper Mountain College student Grace Bjerke recently completed a 100-hour internship with Joshua Tree National Park Volunteers-In-the-Park Program. Her successful completion of the internship was commemorated at the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center by representatives from both the college and the national park.

“I wanted to do it because I always wanted to work with plants and with the national parks,” Bjerke said. “I got so much out of it. I learned way more about the park than I ever knew before and I made so many connections. It was such a cool experience overall.”

Grace enrolled at Copper Mountain College this summer and her story is an example of the power of internships to help shape the course of the lives of students.

“Joshua Tree National Park has been a partner of ours for many years for accepting and training our students in their volunteer program,” said Cassandra Nafziger, Copper Mountain College’s Internship Coordinator. “We renewed our contract with them just this summer and began outreach to recruit for student interns in June and Grace was the first student who indicated interest in interning with the park.

“This is Grace’s first year in college. Initially, her chosen major was mathematics. Grace has since changed her major to Environmental Studies due to the amazing learning opportunities and the work she’s been involved in at Joshua Tree National Park. Grace complete the 100 hours for the CMC Internship back in mid-August and continues to intern at Joshua Tree National Park because she absolutely loves it and is genuinely fascinated by the National Park Service.”

Bjerke said the internship helped her learn how to interact with the public, as well as changed the course of her education.

“I was really nervous about going to college,” she explained. “I’m not very outgoing, or not social, I guess. But when I was here talking to hundreds of people every day that went away pretty quick.  I plan to get my associate’s in Environmental Sciences and then continue on to get a degree in Botany.

“The rangers made it a very comfortable environment to ask questions and gave great training,” Bjerke said. “I will benefit because it gave me practical experience and the rangers answered every question I could ask. It also helped me network within the park. I want to work in the national park system doing research on plants.”

While most internships are unpaid, Copper Mountain College Foundation does recognize a student’s achievement by presenting them with a Kindle. A total of 86 Kindles has been awarded to interns from the college by the Foundation.  In Bjerke’s case, a sizeable scholarship to support her studies in Environmental Sciences also was awarded.

“For the past decade, the Copper Mountain College Foundation has had a strong partnership with Southern California Edison,” noted Sandy Smith, Executive Director of the CMC Foundation. “Over a quarter million dollars has been distributed at CMC for SCE Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Scholarships.”

According to Smith, the CMC Southern California Edison STEM Scholarships are intended to encourage students to pursue careers in STEM fields. Several $1,000 scholarships are available to students pursuing an Associate degree in science or mathematics at Copper Mountain College. There are multiple $1,000 scholarships available for high school students coming to CMC as well as continuing CMC students.

Supervisory Park Ranger Kevin Turner said he did reference checks on Bjerke when she applied for the internship and was told by one employer, “Grace was the best employee he has ever had and I would really benefit if we were to pick her for the program.”

Turner was enthusiastic about Bjerke’s work with the national park.

“She has been fantastic for us,” Turner said. “Everybody who has worked with her, from the park side and from our cooperative association, the Joshua Tree National Park Association, they have all come to me and said, ‘Wow, she’s great to have around.’  She’s worked with volunteers, she’s worked with our ranger staff, the public has really benefited as well.”

James Henderson, Dean of Instruction at Copper Mountain College, found Bjerke’s level of commitment to be exemplary and noted a connection between her college experience and that of Turner’s own.

“When you look at students, they are committing themselves to their education, right?” Henderson said.  “And there’s a lot involved with that. For Grace, committing herself to something external for that typical classwork really shows her commitment to her own success.

“What’s really cool about that story is Kevin, Supervisory Park Ranger, he was sharing when he was a college student he got a college internship, and look where it led him.”

Copper Mountain College President Daren Otten noted he was proud of Bjerke and the opportunities internships provide for students.

"CMC is a proud partner of Joshua Tree National Park,” Otten noted. “We cannot ask for a greater privilege than to work collectively with our students and employers on investing and advancing in our community through local internship and high-quality job opportunities."

"Grace is an ideal person to be part of this program,” said Joshua Tree National Park Superintendent David Smith. “Her passion for working with the public is obvious every time you see her at the visitor center. As we work to find qualified people to fill National Park Service jobs, these types of partnerships between the college and the park are where I would like to see us headed in hiring local workers to fill park jobs. I appreciate Daren's leadership and willingness to partner with the park to make these good things happen."

While Bjerke found her 100-hour internship with Joshua Tree National Park so enriching that she’s opted to continue it, as well as change her major at Copper Mountain College, the college is working to create additional similar opportunities for students.

“Internships are an incredible way for students to apply skills gained in the traditional classroom within a professional environment,” Henderson said. “This experiential learning exposes students to their chosen field or new industry opportunities. In addition, students can learn from mentors, network with professionals and showcase their talents. Grace Bjerke is a great student representative for Copper Mountain College, and we are pleased with her successful internship.”

Participating in an internship helps students to develop knowledge and skills; enhance a resume for employment; expand extracurricular activities for application to scholarships and universities; and explore job and career interests for best personal “fit.” Local businesses are encouraged to connect with Copper Mountain College to learn more about how an intern can enhance their company’s team.