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Interview with Carmen Quintos: A Reflection on Working with the USDA Northeast Climate Hub

After graduation, Carmen Quintos began a communications internship with the Northeast Climate Hub through the USDA Forest Service’s Resource Assistants Program (RAP). Over the past eight months, she has contributed to projects ranging from designing infographics to building out storymaps. 

Before departing from her time at the Northeast Climate Hub, Carmen reflected on her experience.

How did you first hear about the RAP opportunity through the USDA Forest Service and Environment for the Americas? And what drew you to apply to the internship with the USDA Northeast Climate Hub? 

CQ: During my last semester of college, I spent a lot of time looking for long-term internships because I wasn’t ready to commit to a full-time job and had a feeling that I’d want to go to graduate school within a year or two. I was primarily looking at federal positions within the National Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife, and the US Forest Service because there appeared to be a lot of reputable internships within my area of study (geography/GIS). To be honest, I didn’t really understand what the RAP program was until I started— there were a lot of acronyms and organizations to remember, but the opportunity to work remotely for the USDA seemed really ideal. As for the Northeast Climate Hub specifically, I liked the idea of doing important climate work, and the variety of projects sounded great.

What is your favorite aspect of working with the USDA (Northeast) Climate Hubs? 

CQ: Despite working remotely, I think my favorite part of working with the Climate Hubs is the supportive community. I’ve met/corresponded with so many people on Zoom/Teams or via email, and we are virtually strangers, but everyone seems to want to help me succeed. Fellow Forest Service and Climate Hub employees love connecting each other with resources and people, and everyone is interested in hearing about each others’ stories and projects. It’s a very cool network!

How do you feel your knowledge or understanding of climate change, agriculture, and/or forestry has evolved in your time with the Climate Hubs?

CQ: Since working with the Climate Hubs, I’ve learned a lot about climate change and agriculture as it pertains to the Northeast. The Northeast is probably the US region I’m least familiar with, so I had little to no knowledge of regional livelihoods, practices, crops, or the landscape. A lot of my undergraduate research and projects focused on agricultural adaptation in response to climate-related disasters, which is highly relevant to Climate Hub work, but I focused on entirely different landscapes, such as the Philippines. I also came in with my own agriculture experience from working on farms in Oregon and Portugal, so that makes it particularly interesting to learn and compare the differences in the Northeast.

USDA Northeast Climate Hub at Grey Towers in Milford, PA | November 2023

What challenges did you face and overcome in your internship with the Climate Hubs? 

CQ: To be honest, the main challenges have been the technology and the remote aspect of the internship. Working remotely has also been one of the best parts of this gig, but it means I have to be self-motivated and heavily reliant on my computer and Wifi, which have been undependable. I took advantage of the remoteness by having a few house/dog-sitting arrangements around the country, which meant I was constantly changing scenery, but I think I’ve done a good job of establishing a routine that keeps me on track with tasks.

What project(s) of yours have been the most rewarding for you? 

CQ: I don’t know if one specific project has been more rewarding than another — I think the fact that I’ve been able to work on such a wide variety of projects is rewarding in itself. I appreciate that I was able to take a deep dive into biochar while also dabbling in a few topics such as coastal vulnerability, forest carbon markets, and more. It’s fun to mix things up!

What’s next on your agenda? 

CQ: I’m currently finalizing my applications to a handful of graduate schools with the plan of starting in the fall of 2024! I’m applying to one GIS/cartography program, and the rest are information design and data visualization, which combines my love of data and art.