Faces of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps: Daniel Gomez and Leslie Susan Fuentes of Environment for the Americas

This summer we plan to highlight several of the participants in the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC). Environment for the Americas is a 21CSC program operator. To view all Faces of the 21CSC stories, please click here.  

Daniel Gomez, BLM California and Elkhorn Slough

My name is Daniel Gomez, and I am 25 years old. As a child I was fortunate enough to have been raised close to the beach so I often found myself running in the sand and gazing out into the ocean, amazed by its vastness. When it was time to leave the nest and go college I decided I wanted to explore the country so I headed off to the University of Pennsylvania where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Earth Science.

While my initial interests in college were in petroleum geology I soon returned to my first passion, water. After graduating I returned home wanting to learn about the water issues that plague Central California. Living in a highly agricultural area I found a job with the City of Salinas doing environmental planning that was specifically directed toward agricultural issues, however, I quickly realized that I wanted to be out in the field getting messy and doing research. Having learned that watershed health is dependent on more than just the physical properties related to it, I was ecstatic to find an internship program with Environment for the Americas that focuses on the birds that live in shallow water and mudflats.

This internship gave me the opportunity to directly work with the wildlife that inhabit water bodies and allowed me to strengthen my field techniques. I was also involved with water quality monitoring at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve near Monterey, California and with the Bureau of Land Management in California. It was fascinating to see how the restoration projects at the Slough slowly increase the amount of diversity in shorebirds and passerines, signaling that the ecosystem is getting healthier.

No matter how important and significant the research of a scientist is, it is worthless if it cannot be conveyed to the public. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to interact with my community by participating in outreach events designed to specifically reach the Latinos through nature walks.  

I am convinced that this experience will be invaluable when I apply to graduate school and pursue a Master’s Degree in Hydrology. In the short term, this internship gave me the skills required to be be accepted into Klamath Bird Observatory’s three-month bird banding training. After that, I hope to find employment working with wildlife for the federal government.

Leslie Fuentes of Environment for the Americas

Leslie Susan Fuentes, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

I have a distinct connection with Los Angeles and a personal interest in taking care of and educating people about our past, present, and future. I am part of a team that emphasizes the importance of learning by educating people about the history of their local surroundings at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

I was raised by my mom who is an outdoors person. Every chance she had, we’d pack up the car with tents and cameras and head over to our national parks. One of our favorites, of course, is Yosemite. We stayed in beautiful Curry Village, spending our Christmas and even New Years arguing with each other on how to make the perfect s’mores. It was the week before midterms when my mom had sent me a link to the Latino Heritage Internship program with EFTA through conservationjobboard.com. I read over the purpose and requirements and decided to apply.

Applying to the Latino Heritage Internship Program with Environment for the Americas and the National Park Service was one of the best decisions of my life. As I jumped for joy upon being accepted into the program I honestly did not know what I’ve gotten myself into, nervousness, intimidation, and a lack of confidence struck me.

I was placed in California at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in the Los Angeles office. It was perfect. I was close to home, introduced back to a Hispanic setting and reunited with my Hispanic food.

After my internship, I’m heading back to Hawaii Pacific University. I will finish my degree in marine biology, and then I want to work for the EPA to help the environment on a broader scale. I also want to be a leader for other Latinas who are interested in the environment.