SELINSGROVE — Union County Conservation District watershed specialist Savannah Rhoads credits the experience gained as a Susquehanna University student working as an intern with the Chesapeake Conservancy with paving her career path.

“There were a lot of networking opportunities,” she said of her involvement with several agencies such as Pennsylvania’s Fish and Boat Commission while working as a student intern on restoration projects within the Susquehanna River watershed.

A national Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant obtained in 2016 brought the Chesapeake Conservancy to Susquehanna’s Freshwater Research Institute (FRI). As the funds were set to expire about four years ago, FRI Director Matt Wilson started working on ways to continue the partnership.

“The core of their mission is restoration. We have students who want to learn about it and they (Chesapeake Conservancy) want professionals to do the work,” Wilson said.

More than 30 students have worked as paid interns under the supervision of the conservancy and three graduates, including Rhoads, are now employed as watershed specialists.

“It’s workforce development,” Wilson said.

Last week, the university and the Chesapeake Conservancy announced they have made a formal agreement to continue the relationship which will expand student internship opportunities and continue restoration efforts.

“I truly believe that the Conservancy’s partnership with the FRI’s staff and students has helped launch a new chapter in Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts,” said Carly Dean, director of the Conservancy’s Chesapeake Tributaries Initiative.

“Rooted in strong partnerships and data-driven decision-making, the Conservancy just launched our Chesapeake Tributaries Initiative to scale the approach bay-wide, based on what we’ve learned right here in central Pennsylvania.”

Adrienne Gemberling, a program manager with Chesapeake Conservancy, is one of six full-time employees who work at FRI located on Sassafras Road in Selinsgrove.

A formal agreement between the school and agency will “make it easier to collaborate” on research projects and help complete and manage forest buffer maintenance and stream-side tree-planting, she said.

As the conservancy expands its restoration projects it needs more people to manage them, said Gemberling.

“Students can help fill the conservancy gaps and they’re getting the best training,” she said.

Lizzy Reitzloff, a 2022 Susquehanna graduate, is among those students who gained experience while doing undergraduate work and who now is employed in the conservation field as an Americorps employee working at the FRI overseeing the live stake and forest buffer maintenance.

Like Rhoads, Reitzloff said the experience gained as an intern paved the way for her post-graduate position.

“I did a lot of data research and was involved in a lot of problem-solving,” she said.

“I think it’s a really big deal” that Susquehanna and the Chesapeake Conservancy has formalized a working relationship.

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