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Internship Spotlight: Katya Wendt ’24, National Park Service

Katya Wendt ’24 on making an impact through her mission-driven internship with the National Park Service.

We asked rising second-year MBA students to check in from their summer internships, where they are applying the lessons of their first year at Yale SOM.

Katya Wendt ’24

Hometown: Rochester, Minnesota
Internship: National Park Service—Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Pronouns: she/her/hers
Clubs and Affiliations: Student Government Sustainability Committee; Business & the Environment Club, Energy ClubFood, Agribusiness, & Beverage Club
Favorite SOM Class: Operations
Favorite SOM Professor: Raphael Duguay
Favorite New Haven eatery: One6Three (best pizza in New Haven!)
Favorite thing you do in New Haven or at SOM to unwind: Bike the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail
Favorite Yale study space: Steep Café 1

Hiking at Grand Canyon National Park - Orientation & Training week
Hiking at Grand Canyon National Park during Orientation & Training week

This summer, I am a business plan intern (BPI) with the Business Management Group (BMG) of the National Park Service (NPS). Although the BMG is located in the D.C. office, 18 interns are grouped in pairs and each spends the summer living in one of the national parks. The internship is a consulting-type project, working on a problem for a specific park that also supports the overall mission of the NPS. The National Park Service mission is “to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

I am spending this summer at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. My co-intern and I are working on a building utilization strategy for the park: doing cost-benefit analyses, building tools for data manipulation, and creating frameworks for making building utilization decisions. We are working closely with the Visitor Resource Protection and Maintenance divisions at the park to evaluate building utilization options and will be making a recommendation on how best to move forward.

bird banding
Ice cream at Cuyahoga Valley National Park Visitor Center
Midpoint presentation
Here I am holding a song sparrow while bird-banding at a MAPS station, grabbing some ice cream at Cuyahoga Valley National Park Visitor Center, and delivering my midpoint presentation for park senior leadership.

Before SOM, I worked in product management at Amazon, working on intellectual property protections. This internship has presented many different challenges and learning opportunities for me, both in the structure of the organization and how it operates and in the subject matter. I have enjoyed being able to bring a technical and business perspective to help operationalize and optimize processes for the park, while relying on their subject matter expertise to help me get a better grasp on what the main pain points and areas of opportunity are for the park.

I first heard about the internship through a Career Development Office (CDO) event at SOM. One of last year’s SOM graduates who had just completed the internship shared her experience at that event. After hearing about her experience, I reached out to another SOM student who had done the internship previously to find out more. I found the application through the CDO website and applied by the priority deadline. Although I applied and interviewed for other internships, I ultimately decided to intern at the NPS because I thought it was a unique opportunity that I might never get again.

SOM gave me a well-rounded experience through the core curriculum, which was directly applicable to my project and experience at the park. The project focused mainly on building utilization and facility management, but it incorporated aspects ranging from financial models and cost-benefit analyses to optimization, workforce morale, partner and community relationships, and operational efficiencies.

One of the best parts about this internship, in my opinion, was the myriad of networking opportunities. During training week, I was able to network with other graduate students from across the country and the BMG team. Once at the park, I worked closely with park leadership but also spent time doing interviews and making connections at the regional and D.C. offices as part of the project. My project leader at the BMG asked about my interests and career goals and helped make introductions to NPS employees from various divisions.

There are two aspects that I think are very unique to this internship: The first is the location. How many MBA students get to say they spent an entire summer living in a national park? Cuyahoga Valley is full of wonderful natural resources, miles of trails, scenic waterfalls, and opportunities to get out in nature. I have been able to get involved in park activities outside of the scope of my work and take full advantage of the summer months. On Wednesday mornings before work I join the resource management biologists to participate in bird-banding and have learned more than I ever imagined about how to properly age birds. I had the opportunity to do ride-alongs with park rangers and see the inside of the ranger stations. I also have plans to go kayaking in the Cuyahoga River before the summer is out. Training this year was at the Grand Canyon National Park, where we went hiking and star-gazing and saw pictographs left on the canyon walls by ancestral canyon occupants.

The second unique part of this internship is how hard the BMG team works at helping you get employment at the Department of the Interior after graduation. As a part of the internship, you have direct hire authority for two years after graduation, which makes the federal hiring process a lot easier. They also provide assistance with creating federal résumés and making connections within the government once you start looking for your post-graduation career. As someone who is interested in pivoting from the private to the public sector, the support in making the career switch is invaluable!

There is a strong SOM connection at this internship. This year, I am pleased to share the internship experience with fellow SOM student Dimitria Spathakis ’24. There were several SOM students in this program last year and in years prior, and several who have since started working for the NPS full time. During my internship, I even connected with a Yale alum from the original BPI class of ’98!

This summer has given me an opportunity to explore my interests and reflect on what I hope to get out of business school. I really enjoyed working for a mission-driven organization and feeling as though my contribution made a positive impact on the work being done at the National Park Service. Whether I end up working at NPS after graduation or not, I will always remember and value this summer as a chance to grow personally and professionally.