Tag Archives: Pathways Program

Woman Scientist of Color Blazes Path for Others

Today, we will be hearing by Christina Uh, a graduate student at McCall Outdoor Science School through the University of Idaho and former Pathways intern for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This story is the fourth in the Native American Blog Series in observance of  National Native American Heritage Month. This content was originally written by Christina Uh and edited by Patrick Cooney in the The Fisheries Blog.

Adaptation; what does this word mean to you? To me it means overcoming obstacles that obstruct your mission, your goal, your purpose. It is your ability to succeed in the face of adversity; it is your power to be adaptable, strong, and tough.

I am of Mayan and Navajo descent and the first in my family to pursue higher education. Being a first-generation student is a great honor and privilege, and it has not come easy. I realize that to achieve my goals, I must be adaptable.

When reflecting on my journey, I am reminded of our elder: the Pacific Lamprey. Pacific Lamprey are migratory anadromous fish with an ancient lineage to the past. Their numbers are dwindling, and the obstacles they face on their upstream journey are not easily surmountable. Having worked with Pacific Lamprey while I pursued my undergraduate degree, I realized that today’s Pacific lamprey are a product of millions of years of persistent ancestors who lived before, during, and after the demise of so many others, including the dinosaurs. No matter the struggle, Pacific Lamprey have pressed on.


If adaptability is the ability to persist and continue towards your goals and purpose in the face of obstacles, then I too must be like the Pacific Lamprey and be persistent even in the most difficult of conditions. I too have come to think of myself as resilient.

Pursuing an undergraduate degree is one of the most difficult things I have decided to accomplish. There were times in which I felt myself become unmotivated, unsatisfied, and incapable of continuing. I have struggled with severe depression, anxiety, and insomnia, to the point of what felt like madness. My ability to push on was buoyed by the love, support, and encouragement of my mentors, family, and closest friends, without whom I would not have been able to overcome even some of the smallest of obstacles. Many of the select few researchers who focus on ensuring the future of Pacific Lamprey are also the ones who helped lift me up in my times of greatest need. After my first year of school it became abundantly clear that to ultimately succeed, I needed experience in the field of science, but I also needed to maintain a job to support myself financially.

I was fortunate to receive a PATHWAYS internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) at the Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office in Vancouver, Washington as an office clerk. Although my dream job did not consist of shredding paper and booking travel arrangements, I took the opportunity with outstretched arms. While performing office duties, I would ask questions to those around me about their research while making them aware of my ultimate goals. This was my foot in the door into a biologist’s world, and alas, the opportunity paid off.

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Over the 5 years working with USFWS, researchers gave me the opportunity to research the feeding requirements of Pacific Lamprey, to capture them in streams and rivers with electrofishing equipment (a common method of catch and release field sampling), and research their upper thermal tolerances. The researchers at USFWS supported me and gave me the opportunity to present our research at professional conferences, publish in a peer-reviewed journal, and meet wonderfully brilliant scientists who became my biggest advocates and mentors.


Much like how lamprey lay down a scent trail to guide the way for other lamprey to find optimal upstream habitats, I have discovered how I can help the next generation of scientists succeed and adapt! I am currently one of two graduate students participating in a National Science Foundation funded project to build Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) identity in Native American Students as I pursue a M.S. in Natural Resources with a graduate certificate in Environmental Education and Science Communication at the McCall Outdoor Science School through the University of Idaho.


I know that there are obstacles ahead that I must overcome, but I have learned how to be adaptable and continue in the pursuit of my goals and purpose. I live in a yurt full time, on campus, with all of Idaho’s stunning backcountry as my playground. My cohort consists of incredible students from across the country and my advisor and professors are all top-notch. Leaving the comforts of my friends, family, and supporters in Portland, Oregon was challenging, but my journey continues, my resilience persists, and life is good.

As I wrap this up, I remind you, that my journey sounds great when it is all laid out like this in words. However, it was the ability to accept support and adapt in response to some of the most negative moments of my life that I was able to achieve what I have. I share this with you because I want you to know that I believe in you. I want you to know that there are others like you -individuals who identify with underrepresented, minority groups, who struggle with mental health, who are first-generation students, who are children of divorced parents, those who come from poverty, and those who have felt like giving up over and over again. We stand with you. I stand with you, and I can’t wait to see what you accomplish.

Partnerships for fish passage

As a Pathways Student in the Fish Passage Engineer Program, Kevin enjoys working in the field on mission critical projects. Photo Credit: USFWS

As a Pathways student in the Fish Passage Engineer Program, Kevin often works in the field on mission critical projects. Photo Credit: USFWS

Kevin Mulligan is a Pathways Program student working on the Northeast Region’s fish passage engineer team. The fish passage engineering program is the result of a successful partnership between the Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Massachusetts. Today, Kevin shares with us his experiences on the team.

The term “fish passage engineer” may not be the most trending subject in media these days, but for fish species that need access to habitat in order to live, a fish passage engineer can be the difference between finding  successful spawning  sites or, literally, hitting a brick wall.

I was first introduced to the Fish Passage Engineer Team through a partnership between UMass, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. At the time I was working on my graduate studies within the UMass Department of Environmental and Water Resources Engineering. The partnership is designed to give students practical on-the-job experience, and at the same time provide the agencies with academic resources for doing research and having students assist with critical work. As part of the partnership, Service employees teach classes and work with students on real, working projects.  In September 2013, I began a research project at UMass funded by the Hydro Research Foundation.  My adviser, Brett Towler, is a member of the Service’s Fish Passage Engineer Team and an adjunct professor at the university.  In May 2015, once my graduate studies were nearly completed, I joined the team as a Pathways Program intern.

The Holyoke Dam on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts is another location where fish engineers work to move fish upstream to reach spawning habitat. Photo credit: USFWS

The Holyoke Dam on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts is another location where fish engineers work to move fish upstream to reach spawning habitat. Photo credit: USFWS

My primary focus as part of the engineer team is to develop the region’s first ever fish passage engineering design criteria manual. Creating the manual requires integration of numerous scientific and engineering disciplines that include fish behavior, hydraulics, hydrology and hydropower. But for the fish and aquatic species I am working for, the criteria manual means survival.

Kevin visits the Howland Dam bypass in Maine as part of his Pathways experience. Photo credit: USFWS

Kevin visits the Howland Dam bypass in Maine as part of his Pathways experience. Photo credit: USFWS

As a Pathways Program intern some of the perks of working with the fish passage engineering team are visiting fishways throughout scenic New England, participating in technical meetings and learning from professionals actively working in the field. Thanks to my education and the partnership with the Service and USGS I feel equipped to handle these experiences and projects that I am asked to assist with. Specific courses in the fish passage specialization program that have been particularly useful in my work for the partnership are The Design of Fish Passage Facilities, Open Channel Flow, Hydrology, and the Ecology of Fish.

A banner displayed at the Fish Passage Conference held in the Netherlands. Photo credit: USFWS

A banner is displayed at the Fish Passage Conference held in the Netherlands. Organizations from all over the world come together each year to share the latest science in fish passage engineering. Photo credit: USFWS

One of the projects I have been fortunate to work on was developing computational fluid dynamics and physical models to enhance the design of downstream guidance structures for fish passage. In addition, the partnership started an Annual International Fish Passage Conference, to which I have been on the organizing team for the past five years. After being held in Massachusetts at UMass in 2010, the conference took place in Oregon, Wisconsin and The Netherlands. My participation in the conference has allowed me to connect with people in the field of fish passage from all over the world.

I am honored to be part of such an amazing team of fish passage engineers and biologists northeast whose mission is to improve the life of aquatic organisms in our rivers and oceans. My time with the Service and the work through the partnership has truly been educational and personally rewarding. Undoubtedly, the additional knowledge and skills I’ve gained will be useful throughout my career.

Learn more about the Fish Passage Engineering partnership with UMass.

Learn more about fish passage.

Childhood adventures inspire life career goals

IMG_4966Today we hear from Tannar Francis, a Pathways student working in our fisheries program in Maine. Tannar shares his story of passion and commitment to fisheries conservation, and his journey in following his dream to work in the field of natural resources.

Having grown up with strong cultural ties to the land and watersheds within the Penobscot Indian Nation, I always knew I wanted to pursue a job in the outdoors. The summer after I completed high school this dream became reality when I received an opportunity to apply for a biologist aid position for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Tannar completed stream surveys during his summers in Maine working for our fisheries program. Photo credit: USFWS

After being interviewed for the job, I was offered the position, which started my journey into the world of fisheries. I spent my first summer with the Service conducting stream surveys in the Mattamiscontis watershed in Lincoln, Maine in order to see what locations in the watershed are suitable for salmon stocking and rearing. In knowing this information we could then determine where we should implant the salmon eggs. When I finished my seasonal employment and gave my end of the summer presentation to my supervisor, he asked if I would be interested in coming back the following summer, to which I replied “absolutely,” with great appreciation!

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Tannar at work in the field with a Service biologist. Student interns and employees experience a variety of natural resource management work during their employment. Photo credit: USFWS

Now I am currently in my fourth field season with the Service in the Pathways program, which helps students gain employment with the Service after graduation. As a Pathways student I have done many different fishery tasks, including electrofishing to see what fish species are in different watersheds, culvert fish removal in order to safely relocate fish from a construction site, clamshell relocation after the dams on the Penobscot river were removed and the water levels were dropping to safely put them in the deepest part of the water channel and river habitat restoration.  I have also worked in hatcheries, gaining experience in bleeding fish to find out if any contain diseases and making “trap runs” to get fish out of the fish traps at the Milford dam to bring to the hatchery for spawning.

 Fish habitat restoration on the Meduxnekeag river is just one of the projects Tannar is involved with. Photo credit: USFWS

Fish habitat restoration on the Meduxnekeag river is just one of the projects Tannar is involved with. Photo credit: USFWS

Having this start in fisheries helped steer my education in the direction of environmental sciences. I plan to graduate from the University of Maine at Farmington with a degree in environmental science and continue my education by pursuing my masters in a more specific topic such as fisheries biology. I know that education is the key to success and I plan on gaining as much knowledge in the science field as possible. As for future career goals I hope to get a job in fisheries that is close to home, such as a Service job in the northeast.

I am very passionate about working with fish and I have gained a lot of knowledge in the field these past summers, yet there is still more to learn. I am thankful for all of the experiences and knowledge that I have acquired by working with the Service and I look forward to what the future holds for me.