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Graduate Public Service Internship

Program Goal

The goal of the Graduate Public Service Internship Program is to provide graduate students with valuable experience in the public sector while they complete their graduate degrees through the University of Illinois at Springfield. The experience they gain will help them become competitive in the natural resources job market.

To learn more about the specific goals of the GPSI program please refer to the University of Illinois-Springfield website.

Program Description

The GPSI program is a 21-month internship experience. The IL DNR has partnered with the University of Illinois at Springfield to give currently enrolled graduate students the opportunity to receive professional experience and hands-on training in their internship.

Each internship opportunity is unique at IL DNR. Prospective interns are chosen to interview with different offices within the agency and can select the opportunity that is best suited to their interests.

In addition to the valuable experience interns obtain, the GPSI program covers the cost of full-time graduate enrollment tuition at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Interns work 20 hours/week during the school year to accommodate their full-time school schedule and 40 hours/week during the summer months. Interns receive stipends through UIS and professional development funds to expand their scope of learning.

What GPSI's Do

Since there are many unique internship opportunities at IL DNR, job duties may vary between departments. However, interns can expect to:

  • Aid the public and private sectors in natural areas preservation, endangered species protection, and rare resource stewardship
  • Become familiar with Illinois' natural resources, law, policies, and procedures
  • Develop critical thinking skills
  • Network with resource professionals and organizations within and outside of state government
  • Gain experience in communicating effectively with the public
  • Understand the relationship between science, public policy, and agency programs

Current and Former GPSI Interns

Interested in becoming a GPSI intern? Find out what our current and former interns are doing!

Heather McLean

Heather McLean began working at the IDNR as the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC) GPSI in 2022. Heather is originally from Nova Scotia, Canada. She has a degree in Biology from Wagner College (Staten Island, NY). She is currently studying for her master's degree in Environmental Studies, with a concentration in Policy and Sustainable Development, from the University of Illinois Springfield. She is also obtaining her certification in Geospatial Information Systems (GIS). As a GPSI, Heather has many responsibilities, including updating the Nature Preserves, Land and Water Reserves, and Natural Heritage Landmarks in the INPC database. She also takes advantage of field opportunities to gain hands on experience. In her free time she enjoys golfing, reading, and spending quality time with her friends and family. Heather played college golf at Wagner College and is currently playing for the UIS Prairie Stars.

Kassie Wood

Kassie Wood began her internship with DNR in 2022 as the Natural Areas Program intern. She works to keep the INAI database up to date, helps edit the program’s guiding documents, and assists with meetings, projects, and field work. She is pursuing a master’s in Environmental Science and a certificate in GIS at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Kassie received a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Environmental Science from UIS in 2019 and an A.S. in Biology from LLCC in 2016. She enjoys spending time with family outdoors, volunteering, reading, crafting, and having game nights with friends.

Megan Jacobsen

Megan Jacobsen interned with the Natural Heritage Database Program from 2021-2023. Megan has a degree in Natural Science (BA), and earned a degree in Environmental Studies with a focus in Policy and Sustainable Development (MA), as well as a certification for Geospatial Information Systems (GIS). As a GPSI, Megan worked to keep the endangered and threatened species database up-to-date and organized and she took many opportunities to help with field work around the state. Megan's capstone project was to write species status assessments for some of the rarest plants in Illinois, including silvery bladderpod and prairie dandelion. In her spare time, Megan enjoys spending time with friends, traveling, and seeking out new opportunities wherever she goes.

Isabella Newingham

Isabella Newingham interned as the Aquatic Ecology and State Wildlife Action Plan GPSI from 2021-2023. Isabella has a Bachelor's degree in Biology from Millikin University and a Master’s degree in Environmental Science with a Sustainable Development and Policy concentration from the University of Illinois Springfield. As a GPSI, she assisted with the 2022 Minor Revision of the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan and the development and implementation of the IDNR’s Species Recovery Process. During her time as a GPSI, she was able to complete multiple Species Status Assessments of SGCN species and assist with the development of Standards and Guidelines for the three phases of the Species Recovery Process. She is now employed at the Environmental Protection Agency in the Bureau of Air, Air Pollution Control Section. Isabella enjoys spending her time with her two daughters and exercising. 

Samantha Scalice

Samantha Scalice interned with the Natural Areas Program from 2020 to 2022. Samantha graduated from Purchase College (New York) in May of 2020 after obtaining a degree in Environmental Studies with an Ecology concentration and a biology minor. Throughout her time at Purchase, she engaged in various activities such as maintaining a communal native pollinator garden on campus, researching the behaviors of urbanized Eastern Gray Squirrels, quantifying micro plastic contamination on shores, and spending her summers as an Endangered Shorebird Steward at a coastal state park monitoring Piping Plovers and other shorebird populations. She obtained her Master's in Environmental Science and a certification in GIS from the University of Illinois Springfield. Samantha loves animals and pets of all kinds and enjoys attending live music events in her spare time.

Marissa Jones

Marissa Jones, interned with the Natural Heritage Database Program from 2019 to 2021 while earning her master's degree from the University of Illinois Springfield in Environmental Science, with a focus in Land Management and Planning. A Girard, IL native, Marissa had the opportunity to perform a six-week mark and recapture study of the state-threatened mudpuppy in Robert Allerton Park for her graduate capstone project. Marissa valued this experience and believed it helped her to significantly expand her animal research skillset and build her confidence in the field. Something else that is interesting about Marissa is that she runs a small herd of Black Angus cattle with a few Galloway's (also known as 'oreo cows' on the Jones Farm) and has a flock of free-range chickens! She is even hoping to introduce a few goats or pigs to the farm eventually. Marissa is now serving as an apprentice at Lincoln Memorial Garden in Springfield, IL, where she will transition into the role of Head Gardener when her gardener mentor retires.

Baylee Thorton

Baylee Thorton interned with the Natural Heritage Division as the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) intern from 2018 to 2020. Baylee has a B.S. in Wildlife and Conservation Biology from Southeast Missouri State University, as well as a M.S. in Environmental Science and Graduate Certification in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) from the University of Illinois Springfield. As a GPSI, she helped make the SWAP more publicly accessible using ArcGIS software, assisted with various field assessments relating to Species in Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), and assisted in field surveys for fish and mussels throughout Illinois. During her time as a GPSI, she was also able to conduct a research mark-recapture project on the lesser siren salamander species to fulfill both my graduate project and provide the Division with a species guidance document, as it is a SGCN. After graduating in 2020, Baylee spent about half a year working for Nelson Land Management (coincidentally enough, with Alex Davis!) conducting invasive species management, timber stand improvement, and prescribed burns. She is now an Environmental Scientist for HDR Engineering conducting habitat surveys for T&E species, providing guidance to power and transportation companies regarding environmental compliance, and performing biological modeling of fish species for hatcheries throughout the country and Canada. Baylee enjoys spending time with her family, going birding and hiking, and playing board games with friends in her free time.

Thomas Kenny

Thomas Kenny interned as the Grant Administrator Intern from 2018 to 2020. He is a 2010 graduate from Eastern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. Upon graduation, he began working at the Korean War National Museum, until its closure in 2017. Thomas attended the University of Illinois Springfield where he obtained a master's degree in Public Administration with a certificate in Management of Nonprofit Organizations. Thomas, who is the youngest of 10 children, grew up on a farm in the small town of Donnellson, IL, just south of Hillsboro. In his free time, he enjoys reading, playing trivia with his wife at local venues, and rooting for the New York Giants.

Alex Davis

Alex Davis interned with the Natural Heritage Database Program in 2017. Alex has a degree in Anthropology (BA) from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and a degree in Environmental Studies (MA, focus in Policy and Sustainable Development) from the University of Illinois Springfield. As a GPSI, Alex tracked records of Illinois's threatened and endangered species in the database, and learned about private landowner engagement in wildlife management. She also assisted with the species guidance for the state-threatened Franklin's ground squirrel, and gained lots of invaluable field experience, including conducting listed species monitoring and habitat management. After graduating, Alex spent two years in the private sector working on Nelson Land Management's ecological restoration crew, where she conducted invasive species management, timber stand improvement, and prescribed burns. Alex is now the Marketing and Outreach Specialist for the Illinois Recreational Access Program (IRAP), where she assists private landowers with land management practices, and conducts program outreach among the Illinois' hunters and anglers. In her free time, Alex enjoys hiking, gardening, mycology, and nature photography.

Beth Kramer

Beth Kramer joined the Division of Natural Heritage as an Endangered Species Program Intern. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. She attended graduate school at University of Illinois at Springfield and obtained a Master of Arts in Environmental Studies and a certificate in GIS. In her free time, Beth enjoys camping, paddle boarding, and hiking with her dog, Jetta.

Liz Harney

Liz Harney joined the Division of Natural Heritage as a GPSI for the Natural Heritage Database Program, assisting with data entry and mapping of endangered and threatened species and natural areas. Liz is from Springfield, IL, and completed her Bachelor of Science at MacMurray College in Jacksonville. She also completed her master's degree in Environmental Studies at University of Illinois in Springfield. Liz enjoys traveling in her spare time. One notable adventure took her to Gambia, Africa where she conducted a conservation outreach project to teach locals about the importance of Honeybee conservation. When Liz isn't out exploring, you can usually find her in the gym, cooking up new vegan recipes, or watching a documentary with her two cats, Sheamus and Khaleesi.