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Life of an Intern Part Eight: Ivan Gonzalez

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Life of an Intern Part Eight: Ivan GonzalezBy Ahva SadeghiWith many internship programs coming to an end, we have been excited to hear about the wide variety of exciting work that students have participated in this summer. We have met with students interning at corporate offices, remote locations and even out in nature! Each story on #LifeOfAnIntern is unique and jam-packed with key learnings, mentorship, and professional growth.

On this part of #LifeOfAnIntern, we are thrilled to feature Ivan Gonzalez who spent quality time outdoors during his internship with SFO. Ivan was able to explore his passion for wildlife conservation and ecology and engage in meaningful work for our environment. He shares how this experience allowed him to implement many of his classroom learnings in real-life like his water quality training. This is one of the many reasons why internships are a significant learning experience for students like Ivan to explore their future careers. 

Please read on to learn more about Ivan’s awesome internship and check out his cool pictures to get a glimpse of his experience. If you know of an intern who has done a really unique internship, please invite them to participate in our series #LifeOfAnIntern.

Hi Ivan, we’re excited to hear about your experience at the San Francisco Airport! How did you land your internship?

As apart of Students Rising Above, my adviser knows my interests and tailors the Internship opportunities she sends me to them. Additionally, I do a lot of searching on different sites, and within my school resource centers. I had the choice between an internship in the East Coast with a Land trust, a national park in Hawaii, documenting the stories of the Arctic Refuge in Alaska, or the SFO internship. I ultimately chose the SFO internship because I was really interested in trying out more wildlife conservation and ecology, allowed me to put my water quality training in practice, and the overall location would allow me to partake in different networking opportunities around the Bay Area. Which has been the case, as I’m connected to everything going in the area and have been able to take full advantage of my time here.

Describe a project you’ve enjoyed working on.

I have a on-going independent research project that I proposed the first few weeks and now am conducting my sampling. The independent research project has to do with furthering our understanding of the Wetland Ecosystem and how nutrient flow from being surrounded by a highly urbanized setting affects the water quality that overall plays a role in the development and habitat of the snake. So I’m doing water and soil sampling across different sites on the wetlands property, then analyzing the nutrient levels in a lab near by. With the data, I’ll create an interactive GIS map where we can overlay all the different factors and do a spatial analysis to better understand why certain wetlands are thriving in terms of biodiversity abundance compared to others and what other factors might be playing a role in that. SO, aside from all that scientific jargon I really enjoy the ability to be outside all day, hearing dirt crunch under my boots, interacting with the wetlands, seeing all kinds of plants and animals; everyday feels like a mini hike. It gives me better insight into what a career in conservation might look like, which I hope will ultimately help me understand what I’m passionate about in relation to environmentalism. 

How has your intern manager helped to make your internship experience better?

The first weeks I shadowed my supervisor a lot, so it was a lot of hanging out with her and seeing everything she does around the airport and city, which is a lot. As the resident biologist she oversees, consults, and advises for a number of airport and city happenings. She’s always very eager to answer any questions I have and include me in all the meetings. Overall she’s very personable and knowledgeable in a lot of different aspects.

The intern manager above her, is very involved! I believe she knows almost every interns name, which is a lot of names, over 300-400? The whole intern managing team does a great job at creating events and workshops to bring together all the different interns to get to know one another, as well as learn about different topics that we’d need for our future such as; financial literacy workshop, LinkedIn workshop, etc. 

What is the top thing you’ve learned during your internship so far?

I’ve always been a traveler, always admired the concept of airports. Everyone is just a passing moment in time, off to who knows how many destinations, or arriving from who knows where. I think that sense of wonder I’ve had for the airport has always existed in me, so being able to work here and seeing the people behind the scenes making all this happen has been very insightful. They love to say “the airport is a mini-city”, and it really is! There are so many departments, so many employees, so many different realms that are being worked on that ultimately contribute to the experience of passengers, the surrounding community and the workplace. So really all the parts that go into a place where 60 million people pass through in a year, and how they plan to further grow that number into 70 million. It’s really so cool, everything from — if the new windows are bird safe, but also allow passengers to take pictures of the runway, to ITT for the entire airport network, to if the signage around the airport is clear and won’t get people lost. So many things we don’t really think twice about.


Describe a unique experience your internship has provided you.

I think overall the ability to work with an endangered species of snake and threatened species of frog. The airport is such a random place to be working on that, so being able to take part in this is super unique. Now whenever I’ll drive by the airport or come back from a trip I’ll point to the property west of the airport and be like “Hey, did you know that’s one of the last three places where you can find the San Francisco Garter Snake? The airport has taken it upon themselves to care for that wetlands and increase the snakes numbers.” 

Why do you think internships are important?

Being someone with a wide range of interests and passions, Internships have definitively granted me a window into what a career in that field would look like. I initially thought I was passionate about medicine and medical research, but after spending a summer at the Stanford School of Medicine, doing immunology research, I realized that despite being fascinated by the research, a career in medical research didn’t call out to me as much. That’s just one of the experiences that has helped me get a better idea of what I find fulfilling and excites me mentally. Even with this internship as great as it is, It’s helped me get a taste of what this career field might look and ultimately allowing me to find out that it’s not what I think I would further pursue, and that’s okay. I would rather have experiences like these, then spend the rest of my life with ‘what ifs’.

How have you tried to make the most out of your internship experience?

I think one thing I struggled with most of my life is that whenever I’m not passionate about something I try to do the least amount of work because to me it’s not valuable. That’s good in a way because it’ll help keep me orientated towards my passion, but also flaw because I’m not always going to passionate about everything I have to do. With this internship, I’ve been trying to put in all the effort I can, even in the things that I’m not passionate about. I know now this isn’t the work I’d see myself doing, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to give it my all. That’s the mentality I’ve been trying to have.

What advice would you give to future interns?

I would say if you don’t have an idea of what you’d like to specialize in there are so many opportunities here to get experience in. Whether you’re interested in general HR/recruiting, sustainability, biology, data analysis, or computer science! There’s all sorts of internship positions here that will help you test the waters while also contributing to such a large scale operation that is essential to the Bay Area and the California economy.


By Ellen Zhang

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