The Directorate Fellows Program

A life-changing opportunity to work in conservation

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
6 min readAug 5, 2021
dirt trail featuring flat grasslands and a forest and mountain range background and blue skies with some clouds
A trail out in Herman’s Gulch, Colorado. Credit: Amy Walsh

Are you an active college or graduate student interested in joining the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? Well, the Directorate Fellows Program may just be your golden ticket.

“Growing up, I always had an admiration for wildlife,” said Dimitri Pappas, fish and wildlife biologist for the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office. “I was always so impressed that animals didn’t have grocery stores — that they were responsible for surviving off their surroundings. The moment I learned species have gone extinct from human-related causes, was the moment I knew that my dream would involve helping them.”

Pappas, along with many others, is a former directorate fellow who landed a job at the Service after graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a degree in wildlife ecology and management.

Dimitri sits on a cement fence in front of a beach
Dimitri Pappas at La Jolla Shores in San Diego, California. Credit: Dimitri Pappas

“Now I work in an Ecological Services office, implementing the Endangered Species Act. I’m even at the table working on a lot of these projects where endangered species are impacted, and I couldn’t feel more fortunate pursuing a career that aligns with my passion.”

The Fellowship is a Direct Hire Authority program that includes an 11-week project for current students at the rising senior undergraduate or graduate school level. Upon successful completion of the program, along with degree conferral, participants may be directly appointed without competition to full time, permanent positions in the Service.

“If you want to work in the field of conservation and government, apply to the Directorate Fellows Program,” said Pappas. “In my mind, there’s no better way to access this opportunity.”

tern chick with a new band being help close to the camera
Dimitri Pappas conducted common tern breeding surveys and banding during his internship in Maryland. Credit: Dimitri Pappas

Many fellows who join the program not only come from around the nation, but also have diverse backgrounds, including those like former fellow and fish and wildlife biologist Sandra Hamilton, who ended up switching career goals after working for years in veterinary medicine. Hamilton, who graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a degree in ecology, behavior and evolution and minor in global health, also works for the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office.

Sandra with her dog that looks like a pitbull mix in front of an ocean and yellow flowers
Sandra Hamilton and Biggie at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in San Diego, California.

“Finding out about this program was 100% pure chance and luck,” said Hamilton. “I received an email that mentioned ‘Paid summer internship,’ and thought that’s totally up my alley since I was supporting myself by going to school and working full time. I applied not knowing much about the Service and once I got in and learned what the Service does, I instantly knew I wanted a career here.

“For my project, I wrote a species report for the light-footed Ridgway’s rail, an endangered marsh bird. I had the opportunity to go out in the field and see the rail captive rearing program that I’m now involved in. The whole internship was completely serendipitous and one of the best experiences that I could have asked for — especially since it translated to the job I have now.”

Sandra holding a young rail
Sandra Hamilton helping with a rail release at the Tijuana Estuary during her fellowship. Credit: Sandra Hamilton/USFWS

For others, the Fellowship program brought even more awareness to the various positions the Service offers, as well as exposure to new places and broadening perspectives.

Former fellow Amy Walsh explained, “I loved my DFP project. I was based in Colorado, working on a system that makes consultation processes easier for biologists and developers by showing how their projects can impact wildlife. It was overwhelming at first, being in an office I never worked at and being in a city I’ve never been to, but everyone was so welcoming and helpful which overall made the experience great, in addition to the work we’re doing.”

Amy holding her dog that looks like a border collie mix at a river
Amy Walsh with her dog Flynn. Credit: Amy Walsh

Walsh is now based in California and works as a permits biologist for the Migratory Bird Program.

“I really like my job because it was out of my comfort zone — I didn’t know anything about birds before taking this position” said Walsh. “I’ve grown to love this position more than I thought I would and being out of my comfort zone made me realize how many different opportunities are out there with the Service.”

Amy wearing a headlight holding a yellow rail at night
Amy Walsh conducting fieldwork monitoring yellow rails at the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Amy Walsh

Joining the Directorate Fellows Program can be a life changing experience and is made to set fellows up for success and encourages building lifelong connections.

“The camaraderie stood out to me the most during my internship,” said Pappas. “I’ve noticed that many of the people who choose to work in the field of conservation are compassionate and caring, and my coworkers in the Service are no exception. Many of my peers from my DFP cohort have joined the Service and work all over the U.S., and it’s been amazing to stay connected with them and have friends doing super cool things with the Service all over the country!”

“The DFP was a tangible opportunity for me to understand what it’s like to work in conservation,” said Walsh. “I felt like I wasn’t an intern or student, but already part of the agency, and I felt really supported. I was included and contributed my thoughts in meetings which really made a difference for me. It’s nice to be heard in those situations.”

As far as advice goes to those interested in joining this program and pursuing a career in the Service, Hamilton mentioned, “Be vocal about your goals and what you want. If there is a position you’re interested in, reach out and network. During my DFP, I was very vocal and voiced where I wanted to work and made it a point to let my supervisor and others in the office know about my goals. At the end, it paid off because I landed exactly where I wanted to be.”

Pappas added, “So my advice to anyone wanting to join is to definitely apply because it can and will change your life if you get in. Realize there isn’t one way a Fish and Wildlife Service person looks — budget analysts are essential, administrators are essential and the list goes on. Our conservation mission can’t get accomplished without us all working together, and there are positions for almost everyone. When you lend your talents to the Service, whatever they may be, you’re supporting conservation and our greater communities.”

small rabbit in brush
This year’s Directorate Fellows project at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge in California involved endangered riparian brush rabbit recovery work. Credit: Lee Eastman/USFWS

We strive to have a workforce that represents and reflects the diversity of the people we serve. Our Directorate Fellows Program engages students in natural and cultural resources work while providing lifechanging experiences for those interested in obtaining careers in the field of conservation. We pay particular attention to groups underrepresented in our workforce, including but not limited to African American/Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latinx and students who identify as LGBTQ+ or with disabilities. The 11-week fellowships begin in mid-May/mid-June 2022 and end in August/September 2022. For more information and updates about the program, visit:

Written by Rebecca Fabbri, public affairs specialist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California-Great Basin Region



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