28 July 2020

A reflection and pull towards change…

Written by: Christina Tortosa

As I am getting closer to completing my fellowship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), I’ve had some time to reflect on the position and the agency. Overall, I am very impressed with the mission and the work that the USFWS performs and demonstrates. The support of the agency has been indescribable; they treat their DFPs like a member of the community, respect each person, and want to help us achieve our goals. This fellowship alone has not only introduced me to the Service but has confirmed my passion to work for the USFWS once I complete my degree.

Before applying for this fellowship, I wasn’t aware of the many facets of the USFWS. As a kid, I visited many National Wildlife Refuges to go hiking and picnicking as a family, but I never realized how these great spaces existed. I believed that these wildlife spaces existed on their own and without the management and care by people. I didn’t understand that the refuges exist because of the Federal Government and the people who are passionate about protecting species and connecting the public with wild spaces. I believe, if I had truly understood wildlife management and the mission of the USFWS as a younger person, I would have chosen a different career path earlier.

About two years ago, I decided to leave a career position working for Monsanto Vegetable Seeds to pursue my interests in conservation. After working for Monsanto for about six years, I decided to listen to the sinking feeling in my gut nudging me towards change.

To explain this feeling, I need to share a little of my past with you. I grew up in a small town in northern California, and as a kid I wanted to be a large animal veterinarian. I had this dream because I loved being outside in nature and around animals. I pursued this path until I graduated college with my bachelor’s degree, even though something inside me was asking, “Is this really what I want?” I tried to stuff down my feelings and carry on, but I reached a crossroads where I didn’t want to go to vet school. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and had recently graduated with my Bachelor’s in Dairy Science. I knew I didn’t want to be a dairy farmer, so I found an internship in agriculture research where I could work outside and contribute to a corn drought breeding program. This opportunity eventually turned into a career working for Monsanto, where I managed a research program designed to protect newly cultivated vegetable varieties for commercial sales in North America and Mexico. This position was a great way for me to experience the corporate world and taught me how to collaborate with people and manage a research program.

My career was progressing with the company, but I wanted to make a bigger difference in society and work on climate change. I felt the drive to help protect fragile ecological communities and connect people back to the land. However, this new path was not instantaneous, since change is scary and I needed to make sure I was making the right choice. I started to volunteer for different conservation non-profits doing ecological plant restoration, raptor rehabilitation, and working with the public to teach them the importance of conservation while pursuing my career in agriculture research.

After volunteering for about two years, I realized that the volunteer work gave me more fulfillment than my paid work. This revelation nudged me to quit my salaried job with benefits to work as a seasonal technician in the Suisun Marsh. Working in the marsh was a rewarding experience that taught me about hydrology, vegetation, and conservation management. This experience confirmed my interest in ecological research and pushed me to apply to graduate school to study conservation ecology. I recently completed the first year of my Master’s program performing research on vernal pools, while also completing a 6-month internship with the National Audubon Society working on a riparian restoration project to increase bird habitat.

Reflecting back, I finally feel like the dots are being connected and I am where I am supposed to be. I am finishing up my fellowship project with the USFWS, working towards completing my master’s program at CSU Sacramento, and eventually, I will apply for a full-time position with the USFWS. I feel very fortunate to have experienced a diverse career path and to be part of something bigger than myself with this DFP fellowship.

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP

Location: Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office

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