Summer internship: Student releases penguins in New Zealand


This story was originally published in the August 31 issue of Fourth Estate.

Tatyana White-Jenkins, Assistant Lifestyle Editor

Laurel Mahoney, a junior at Mason, made her dreams a reality this summer when she bought a ticket to travel halfway across the world to pursue an internship opportunity and lifelong passion.

After landing an internship at the Penguin Place Conservation Reserve in Dunedin, New Zealand, Mahoney was able to apply skills from her major in environmental sustainability and learn more about how to turn her education into a career.

“I learned about the internship through an International Student Volunteers [ISV] representative coming to one of my environmental science classes,” Mahoney said. “I have always wanted to learn more about my major in the field and I have always wanted to travel to New Zealand, so it was a perfect fit.”

The Penguin Place Conservation Reserve is a private reserve dedicated to aiding the survival of the endangered yellow-eyed penguin. For the first two weeks of the trip, Mahoney helped take care of the penguins’ living space at the reservation and was even given the responsibility of releasing one of the birds back into the wild.

“It was pretty cool to get the chance to release a penguin!” Mahoney said. “It was ISV’s job to help the reserve with tree planting to return the area to its natural environment, [building] new nesting spots to help support population growth, [controlling] invasive species that were interfering with the penguins’ habitat, and [completing] trail work to help increase tourism to the reserve.”

Working closely with professionals in a field she’s passionate about left Mahoney with plenty of valuable insight.

“My favorite part of the internship would have to be having the chance to talk to the workers [about] all that they do to help the penguins and the environment,” Mahoney said. “New Zealand does much more than the United States in terms of environmentally friendly initiatives, so it was awesome to learn more about what all they do and to get ideas to bring back with me.”

For her final two weeks, Mahoney spent time exploring the country she had been longing to visit for most of her childhood.

“To go from one day canyon swinging and luging on top of a mountain to white water rafting off the tallest rafted waterfall in the world to kayaking through a kiwi reserve is incredible,” Mahoney said. “I got to experience so much of the culture and adrenaline junkie atmosphere in two weeks that I never wanted to leave.”

Mahoney’s time abroad also allowed her to experience daily life in a different part of the world, while navigating on the left side of the road with her native leaders that would deceive her about certain aspects of New Zealand’s culture.

But after her experience abroad, Mahoney is more confident in her decision to study environmental sustainability and is inspired to continue working toward a healthier planet.

“After learning so much about what they were doing at Penguin Place and in New Zealand to help the environment, I wanted to get started right away on helping in some way,” Mahoney said. “It was hard to come back to the States and not be able to keep helping there. This motivated me to look further into what I want to do with environmental science to make a difference in our country.”

The experience has also made her a huge advocate for study abroad as a way to help students gain a deeper understanding of the many options they can pursue with their studies.

“You get to learn more about yourself, you get to grow and learn with a group of people, who will inevitably become some of your greatest friends, and you get to experience and learn about a place that is completely different from your own,” Mahoney said.