By: Joel Betts
In February this year WMEAC brought on a new member to our full-time staff. But her face is not new to the office. Ondrea Spychalski, our new Water Programs Outreach Coordinator, has been involved with WMEAC since she started interning with us in January 2013. She described that “as one semester turned into 4 semesters it became difficult for me to see myself anywhere other than WMEAC, and it was joked that I was the ‘intern that would never leave.’” And for her what was only a ‘joke’ has now become a reality!
Ondrea was a great fit for the water programs position. Her long-term work with the Teach for the Watershed program prepared her well to hit the ground running in the position, which now includes a variety of responsibilities within our water programs. She explained, “After accepting the Water Programs Outreach Coordinator position at WMEAC I immediately began to juggle the multiple projects that were currently taking place. Not only have I been dubbed the new ‘Rain Barrel Whisperer’ I also have taken on the role of Event Planner, Volunteer Coordinator, River Cleanup Expert, and the ‘Go – To Water Woman.’ While I still get to enjoy the outdoors with T4W students, my time is now split between all things water – and I couldn’t be happier for it.”
Although most interns do not end up with full-time positions on WMEAC’s staff, it is not unheard of here. Both Anne-Marie Hertl (our Community Activism Manager) and Becky Brown (the previous Water Programs Outreach Coordinator) were once interns at WMEAC, and became vital full-time staff. In the case of these previous interns, as well as Ondrea, the internship prepared them well to contribute to WMEAC’s work. Like most interns, Ondrea speaks fondly of the internship. She explained, “WMEAC offers such a variety of learning experiences in varying fields of study. It creates an environment where you are offered the chance to dabble in many different fields and overall offers an extremely well rounded and beneficial experience.” For most interns, their internship serves as a great platform into future careers in whatever field they pursue, be it environmentally oriented or otherwise.
When asked how her job relates to her career goals, Ondrea described that “my career goals after graduating from Grand Valley were simple. I wanted a job that allowed me to be outdoors, protect water/the environment, and continue to create stewards of the natural world. While these requirements made my job searches more difficult and limiting, I stuck to what my parents had always told me growing up – that I could be and do whatever I wanted, but to make sure that I loved doing it. They instilled a sense of hard work and patience in me – both of which have paid off. WMEAC has fulfilled those simple, yet important, requirements in every way possible and I am extremely grateful and lucky to be where I am today.”
And we are lucky to have Ondrea on board at WMEAC as full-time staff. She has been, is, and will continue to be a strong contributor to our mission and programs in West Michigan!