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A win for bonobo conservation efforts

  • 11/01/11
  • Talia

Two years ago I embarked on an opportunity of a lifetime. It changed my life for it helped me gain independence, confidence, and skills that every aspiring scientist should have as they move forward with their conservation career.  Of course, if you know me at all, it involved animals. To be more specific, it involved African wildlife, and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF)

Photo courtesy of Craig Sholley

Juniata College strongly emphasizes the importance of internships.  I took this to heart and quickly began exploring possibilities for complementing my academic studies.  A good friend of my brother, whom we’ve taken camping a few times, had told me his father worked for a wildlife conservation group. Knowing the importance of networking, I plugged that bit of information in the back of my mind. A year later while internship searching I remembered that tidbit and I contacted Alek’s father, Kurt Redenbo, to see if he had any internship positions available at AWF.

That very summer I began my internship in the AWF Washington, DC office.  I was incredibly nervous and had no idea what to expect. I soon realized that I had nothing to worry about – except for the three-hour one-way commute. Still, I adapted to the crazy commute to the city fairly fast. Kurt, and his associate, Kate Gersh, took me under their wings to ensure this internship not only benefited the conservation work of AWF, but also had value for me and my career aspirations.  At the outset I took the lead role in researching new funding prospects and subsequently crafted project proposals and writing letters to AWF partners and prospective donors. It was a phenomenal learning opportunity because all three of us brought different writing styles and ideas to the table and negotiated the best course of action until we had a well-polished product. Unlike many interns, I was fortunate enough to become fully immersed to the extent that I felt I was no longer an intern but a regular associate.

Photo courtesy of Craig Sholley

When they had gained trust in my capabilities they turned me loose to develop a proposal to Disney Friends for Change: Project Green in support of AWFs bonobo conservation efforts. This proposal was unlike any other I had seen for it was competition-based. That is, if Disney selected the proposal as one of the top five, it would go to a public voting stage where students nationwide would review the competing projects and vote for their favorite – with the first place winner receiving $100,000.

The grant was submitted in August 2010. In December, while I was away at school, Kurt called to tell me Disney had selected the bonobo project as one of five projects to go to the public voting stage! At this point, I called/emailed/told everyone I knew to vote for the bonobos. Word spread quickly and Juniata College picked up on the news. Soon enough, I was named Juniata’s March Intern of the Year and Juniata nominated me for JoAnne Day PA Student of the Year Award. Both honors included publications, plastered all over campus (and I mean all over – including bathroom stalls), that asked people to vote for my AWF project. I think Juniata was just as excited as I about all of this. After about 2 months of voting, the results were in.

Drum roll please.


Photo courtesy of Craig Sholley

Kurt called me shortly after he found out and said the office erupted in excitement when told of the news. I was beyond thrilled. My friends and family were incredibly proud. Juniata was elated. In fact, they ran an online article (involving a photo shoot) on the win. The same article is to be published in this coming fall edition of Juniata Magazine.

The process of writing this particular grant was amazing from beginning to end. It was fulfilling to see and be a part of the entire process of grant-writing; from the development of a project proposal from the first application to the grant itself to the final thank-you acknowledgement to our steadfast conservation partners at Disney. Not only was I able to contribute my passion for wildlife, but I was able to relay that passion and sense of urgency through my other passion, that of writing.

A year later I am back in the AWF office. This year I have upgraded; I have my very own office space where I feel I have even more independence in the workplace. Again, I am prospecting, writing grants and letters and getting coffee for Kate and Kurt whenever they demand it (just kidding!)

I cannot thank AWF or Juniata College enough for all they have done for me. Over the past two years I have undoubtedly grown as a young professional. Though I am not yet ready to leave Juniata’s comforting community, I am confident enough to take the next step: graduation. From there, who knows where I will be but I can only hope it will be just as great as my internship experience with AWF. Who knows, if I am lucky, I will return to AWF; maybe as a grant writer or field biologist (or both)!

And no, I have not traveled to Africa to see the continent’s amazing wildlife and wild lands.  I am still waiting for that internship perk. Hint, hint.  

About the Author

Talia was an AWF corporate and foundation relations intern summer of 2010. She is a wildlife conservation major and English minor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania.

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AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.