By Hannah MitchellAugust 3, 2018
For many college students, the onset of summer means the transition from school work to a summer job, however for Sandy Hattan this means transitioning from student to park ranger.
Hattan is a Park Tech and Pathways Intern with the Walla Walla District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She is also a student at Whitman College, and is currently studying biology.
"I was looking for a job that would fit into my career development and my major goals at Whitman, which included an outdoor job and biological studies," Hattan said. "I found this job originally on USA Jobs because I was looking for a job with either the Forest Service or the Army Corps in the federal government. They have lots of job postings for internships on that website for students and recent graduates."
The Pathways Internship Program provides college students with the opportunity to work in federal agencies, to gain job experience and get paid for it while still in school. To be eligible for this program, applicants must be enrolled at least part time in an accredited school or educational institution and be pursuing a degree or certificate. Interns must submit their transcripts every term to prove they are still in school and are passing their classes.
"Starting out as a Pathways Intern was a bit difficult at first, just because I had never been in a federal job," Hattan said. "As an intern here I have a wide breadth of things that I do at the park. I do part-time maintenance and part-time park ranger work so it's a lot of combined skills."
As a Park Tech, Hattan has many responsibilities, including clearing trails, regulating the water flowing from Mill Creek into Yellow Hawk and Garrison creeks, maintaining the bathrooms at Bennington Lake and Rooks Park and talking with people who have questions.
"I think my favorite part of working here is just working with the public," Hattan said. "Running volunteer events is always a great way to connect with the community and let them see what we're doing up here."
One such community event is a fishing derby, generally for younger kids, which occurs when Bennington Lake has just been stocked. The rangers partner with the U.S. Forest Service Fish and Wildlife who set up a booth and give out fishing poles and prizes to the kids.
In addition to public events, rangers do a lot of behind-the-scenes tasks as well, including spraying wasp's nests, keeping kiosks stocked with pamphlets and dog waste bags, as well as inspecting the picnic tables and playground equipment. All of this is done to ensure the cleanliness of the area and the safety of the visitors.
Rangers like Hattan are also responsible for trail maintenance, which includes trimming back tree branches and clearing brush.
"I'm often out mowing the trails with the brush mower. When we do those kind of projects we're out pretty much the full day mowing trails, and same thing if I'm weed eating, I'm usually out for a good portion of the day," Hattan said.
Depending on the day, Hattan might spend a couple hours in the office, working with contractors and volunteer groups. When it's nice outside, though, rangers try to stay out in the field for the whole day, as most of their duties have to do with taking care of the parks and making sure people follow the rules.
"My most dreaded task is probably clogged toilets, or just telling people to put dogs on leashes, because people like to let their dogs run free and sometimes you have to be the hard park ranger and tell people to follow the rules and it can be hard," Hattan said.
After she graduates, Hattan is thinking about moving to Western Oregon, where she might pursue a job at a larger project or potentially a national park.
"The Corps honestly has treated me really well. All my coworkers have been really helpful in this process of getting me out here, taking me under their wing, teaching me everything. I really appreciate everyone I work with and how much they've helped me, been patient with me when I'm learning FEM and computer systems and just learning the rules up at the lake. I think everyone here has just been really wonderful so far," Hattan said.