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Audubon’s Restoration Internships set birds and interns up for long-term success

Celebrating its 15th-year Anniversary, Audubon's Restoration Internships provide crucial job training for emerging professionals and restore crucial habitat for the benefit of birds and people.

This year, Audubon will celebrate its 15th anniversary of training and leading young adults in ecological restoration and stewardship across the Chicago region. To date, the program has impacted nearly 200 program alumni and most recently has been recognized in 2018 and 2019 alongside program partners for outstanding collaboration in job training and ecological restoration. Here’s why:

“Audubon’s habitat interns are out in the field all the time, getting critical restoration work accomplished for birds,” said Nat Miller, acting executive director for Audubon Great Lakes. “Interns also create impactful connections with people and local communities in their shared love for Chicago’s preserves and natural areas. They bring the passion and muscle to our conservation efforts.”

Audubon’s Restoration Internship program hires ten interns annually to work in Forest Preserves of Cook County and Chicago Park District natural areas. Interns play a critical role in the management and restoration of coastal wetlands and grasslands where Audubon is committed to improving habitat and water health for the well-being of birds and people that live nearby.  Internships are paid, offer educational and regionally-recognized job training and certifications, as well as provide invaluable connections to the growing network of individuals and organizations in conservation within the Chicago area.

Throughout the last 15 years, the program has grown in its scope and effectiveness. In 2005, the program hired 15 crew members to work directly with Forest Preserves of Cook County staff and solely focused on restoration efforts. Today, the five-month program is a partnership effort that hires ten interns annually and creates a more well-rounded experience. Audubon makes an effort to incorporate interns into every aspect of regional work. During their onboarding, the interns receive orientation directly from Audubon’s Conservation and Science, Engagement, Policy and Advocacy and Executive Leadership teams. This helps interns understand how their work contributes directly to Audubon’s mission, vision, and work. Additionally, interns have the opportunity for professional development cultivation, job shadowing, mentorship and stewardship opportunities. This helps to set interns up for success beyond their internship and allows staff to tailor the internship program to the needs of the interns.  

Audubon’s commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion is woven into all of our work. As such, our internship program strives to represent and reflect the diversity of the communities we work in. Recruitment in 2019 alone generated over 200 local applicants, making the selection process highly competitive. From 2017 to 2019, we’ve increased the number of applicants by 300%, increased recruitment of local and diverse applicants by over 50% and have helped place 100% of our interns into careers or education post-program. By recruiting local, diverse candidates, Audubon Great Lakes is creating deeper connections to the communities we are a part of and work in. Interns complete several evaluations and provide feedback on the program, so Audubon can co-develop programming by learning what and how we can make equitable, meaningful and interesting work for interns. Consistently redirecting the value of the program not on the work completed but the value of each and every employee helps to mitigate the barriers between emerging professionals’ advancement in the conservation field and beyond.

In addition to program improvements, Audubon was also recognized alongside partners by the National Recreation and Park Association as a 2018 “Innovation in Conservation” award recipient and by Chicago Wilderness as a 2019 Force of Nature award recipient. Conservation Corps is a formalized partnership created by the Forest Preserves of Cook County that includes Audubon Great Lakes, Friends of the Forest Preserves, Greencorps Chicago, and Student Conservation Association. All Conservation Corps partners were celebrated and honored for exemplifying a sustainable, multi-organization partnership upholding values of equity, diversity, and inclusion, as well as providing paid, entry-level opportunities to conservation with transferrable job skill training.

Audubon’s Interns 2019 Summary of Impact:

  • 4300+ hours of ecological restoration
  • 700 hours of field-based training and certifications
  • 320+ acres of natural areas enhanced or restored
  • 200 hours of professional development & job shadowing
  • 20 pounds of native seed collected, processed and dispersed
  • 100% immediate job placement or continuing education, including:
    • Forest Preserves of Cook County
    • Friends of the Forest Preserves
    • Turning Leaf Conservation, LLC
    • Stantec
    • Americorps
    • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
    • Southern Illinois University 


To learn more, visit: Audubon Great Lakes Restoration Internship Program landing page or contact Teri Valenzuela, Stewardship Program Associate at teri.valenzuela@audubon.org.

Audubon Great Lakes is a regional office of National Audubon Society, learn more at gl.audubon.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive.

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