DCIP Spotlight: Gaby Benitez, Traveling Naturalist

During Summer 2017, CTNC hired 19 interns for full-time, 10-week, paid internships through the Diversity in Conservation Internship Program to provide hands-on opportunities for students to gain the skills and experience necessary for a successful career in conservation. The program aims to increase racial and ethnic diversity within conservation organizations and engagement with groups underrepresented in conservation careers. Meet Gaby Benitez, a 2017 intern with the Eno River Association.

For Gaby Benitez, a Texas native, there exists “interconnectivity between humans and the natural world.”

“I believe that there’s no hope for humanity as we know it to survive if we destroy our natural habitat, and I think it is really important to educate people about our dependency on the earth so that they can better appreciate it.”

This summer, Gaby worked at the Eno River Association as their Education & Outreach Program Assistant. Her main focuses were planning and helping to run the iWalk the Eno kids summer camp and helping prepare the Environmental Education table at the Festival for the Eno.

A week into her internship, Gaby was met with an unforeseen challenge. The program director for iWalk fell ill and Gaby had to temporarily step up to the role.

Luckily, “the educators had been there so long that they knew some of the routine and traditions that I otherwise would have been unfamiliar with.”

Being adaptable is not unusual for Benitez though. After graduating from Duke University with a Bachelors degree in Environmental Science, she went on to become the resident naturalist at the University of Georgia satellite campus in San Luis de Monte Verde, Costa Rica.

“I led environmental education programming where we did interpretative hikes, guided hikes, as well as more hands-on workshops and presentations about the local ecology, ecosystem, flora and fauna.”

Her interest in environmental education has grown through new experiences and travels around the globe. In each adventure, she has found opportunities to interact with the local community and help teach them about what is in their own backyard.

“Often there is this kind of huge disconnect with science and with people, or you have kids who do science in school but they don’t connect that to the river down the road or being outside in nature. There’s that gap there in how it’s taught. So I think environmental education, which has become so new to me, is a way to bridge that gap.”

Gaby originally became interested in the DCIP program as a way to build her professional skills, but over time she has come to realize important observations about the conservation field itself.

“The current conservation field truly is lacking in diversity, and it is absolutely crucial that they have people such as ourselves who are able to communicate with and relate to a changing citizenship/constituency. They will eventually be the ones with the power to define how our communities interact with our planet.”

Gaby added, “I would say to new DCIP interns that even though it can be discouraging or intimidating when you look at your office staff, or the people running the environmental world, and you see a predominantly white group of people with a certain socioeconomic background, of a certain age, etc. – don’t let that dissuade you! They need us, and the world needs us! You have every right to be there.”

We wish Gaby the best as she moves on to her next adventure in Austin, TX.

CTNC and our partners are proud to cultivate and provide support to our future conservation leaders. We can’t wait to see how Gaby and the rest of the 2017 Diversity in Conservation Internship Program participants continue to advocate for conservation and works to save the places you love across North Carolina!

About CTNC’s Emerging Leaders Program

The Conservation Trust for North Carolina’s Emerging Leaders Program helps connect young people to the outdoors where they can establish a lifelong appreciation for the natural world and an understanding of the critical benefits that land and water conservation provides. Through the Diversity in Conservation Internship ProgramCTNC AmeriCorpsNC Youth Conservation Corps, and Future Leaders of Conservation advisory board, CTNC creates employment pathways by connecting young people to academic studies and careers in conservation. Learn more at www.ctnc.org/connect/emergingleaders.