Jayson Valek

Intern: Jayson Valek '20

Major: Environmental Studies

Title: Fisheries IBI Intern

Place of Internship: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Brainerd, MN

How did you find out about your internship?

I was on the Environmental Studies Jobs/Internships board looking for summer internship opportunities and there was a link for internship opportunities with the Minnesota DNR. There, I found a variety of internships that the DNR was offering. There were several intriguing internships listed, but Fisheries IBI interested me the most.

What were your responsibilities at your internship?

Fisheries IBI (index of biological integrity) is a state-wide program that assesses fish populations as a whole, with the goal of sampling pollution intolerant species. The goal is to create an index for lakes based on their biological community, water quality, and habitat. My internship duties involved two different types of lake surveys. These were "Score-the-Shore" and Near-Shore IBI surveys. "Score-the-Shore" surveys are lakeshore habitat and development surveys that involve assessment of aquatic habitat, shoreline integrity, and shore-land development. Sites with more development scored lower on our index and sites that were more natural scored higher. The data collected for each lake was then analyzed using an algorithm in the program ArcMap (geospatial/mapping software) and a "score" for the lake was generated. I had the chance to survey and collect data, analyze data, and produce primary reports with said scores based off of the data collected. This score was in conjunction with our Near-Shore IBI surveys, where we actually assessed the fish community as a whole. These surveys involved sampling fish using a seine (a large net) and a backpack electro-fisher. I also had the chance to sample fish using trap nets. We would then identify, sort, and count the fish by species. I had the opportunity to sample fish and enter collected data into a fisheries survey program, Fisheries Survey Module. Other responsibilities of my internship included trailering and operating watercraft, driving a truck and trailer, preparing and completing surveys using ArcMap and Fisheries Survey Module.

What was the most beneficial aspect of your experience?

The most beneficial aspect of my experience was making fantastic connections with other interns and the biologists I worked with. I found it very valuable to learn from others’ experiences and to be around people that are also passionate about resource conservation. I find this to be beneficial since these are connections that will forever be important to me as I move down my career path.

What was the most surprising thing you experienced or learned during your internship?

The most surprising thing that I learned during my internship was how intricate aquatic ecosystems are and how detailed aquatic research is. Being able to work hand-on with fish, learning about them as we did our surveys, was an incredible and eye-opening experience in terms of the role that fish play in aquatic systems. In addition to IBI surveys, I also had a chance to work in other parts of the DNR such as Aquatic Invasive Species and Area Fisheries Management (game fish surveys). All of these, in conjunction with other agencies like the MN Pollution Control Agency, play a role in surveying our waters in Minnesota. It was a special experience to be a part of the system that monitors and protects aquatic ecosystems.

How can you apply what you experienced at your internship in the future?

There are several ways I can apply what I experienced in the future. I learned valuable written and verbal communication skills that are important in any field of work. I also developed fundamental skills for research such as data collection, management, and analysis. I hope for the future to go into a career related to fisheries, so learning sampling protocols, fish identification, aquatic ecology, and using important software related to the field were all things that are applicable in my planned career path.

What advice would you offer to future students interested in this experience?

If you are remotely interested in an internship opportunity, apply! You'd be surprised at what that internship might have to offer. I discovered a love for fisheries management and I'm now interested in furthering my education after SJU in fisheries or wildlife management.