The word “internship” typically conjures images of copy machines and coffee runs, with professional instruction almost an afterthought. In 2021, the National Geographic Society and The Nature Conservancy launched a new conservation externship program designed to give youth around the world a very different version of on-the-job training. Instead of being stuck in the mailroom, participants in this virtual education, mentoring and research program have the chance to learn the latest science from a host of experts—then put it into practice.

Eight hundred young adults from 123 countries and territories have already started to build skills for careers in conservation while engaging their local communities on topics that are both globally important and personally meaningful. Juan Francisco Suescún, who joined the program from Colombia, says the externship experience helped him connect more closely with communities of fishers in the Caribbean Sea who are facing declining fish stocks. “It felt like there was an opportunity to help people I care for a lot,” he says, “and also to roll up my sleeves and get to work for a cause that I find incredibly important.”

“Internships are important,” says Lina Gomez, vice president for strategic innovation and youth initiatives at the National Geographic Society. “But they can be very limited and resource intensive.” Young people are often juggling school, home and work responsibilities, and most internships are in-person, which is not always practical. In 2021, Gomez and Kate Ireland, director of youth engagement at The Nature Conservancy, sat down to brainstorm a scalable alternative.

“We wanted to create something that would remove the traditional barriers of internships and focus on how young people, especially those from typically underrepresented communities, can build a skill set for leadership opportunities in conservation,” Ireland says. The result: National Geographic and TNC partnered to create a unique online training and mentoring experience for young people aged 18 to 25, with the help of facilitating group Paragon One.

The initial focus would be on freshwater and marine and community conservation, and participants could be based anywhere in the world. After eight months of planning and coordination, the first eight-week program started in fall 2021. A cohort of 100 externs from 28 countries took live virtual classes on conservation topics and joined guest speaker sessions under the guidance of expert mentors, including National Geographic Explorers and TNC scientists….

If numbers are any indication, the externship program is filling a void in conservation education: To date, there have been more than 25,000 applications for 800 spots. “I think we found something that really resonates with our audience,” Gomez says. “It just shows the tremendous interest globally for this type of experience.”

To read the full inspiring article by Julian Smith, Freelance Writer
November 09, 2023 please visit