At Work in Conservation

As a child, Mariana Bergerson 2002 loved exploring and learning about the natural world around her. Growing up in Philadelphia she found opportunities to explore in local city parks. Today she is a park ranger making a career out of studying and protecting wildlife as well as educating the public about conservation.

Mariana Bergerson 2002

“I started working for the US Fish and Wildlife Service as the Visitor Services Manager at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge on the Southwest Washington coast in the spring of 2009,” says Bergerson, who was transferred to John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in the fall of 2010. The Heinz NWR protects the largest freshwater tidal marsh in Pennsylvania and is an important resting and feeding area for over 300 species of birds, 80 of which nest here.

Every day is different and exciting working for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, says Bergerson, who is as a Visitor Services Specialist. Her work includes teaching science lessons, coordinating volunteer workdays, designing interpretive exhibits and trail signs, maintaining the website, planning festivals, assisting with wildlife surveys and habitat management projects, as well as working on an interdisciplinary team to complete the Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Refuge.

How She Mapped Her Career
During her four years at Ursinus, Bergerson completed internships in the science education departments of the Philadelphia Zoo and Franklin Institute Science Museum. At Ursinus, she traveled to Costa Rica as part of the Tropical Biology class. “It was a dream come true,” she says. She graduated with a B.S., in Biology and Environmental Studies. She continued her work in science and education during a National Science Foundation GK-12 graduate fellowship at Saint Joseph’s University.

“As a M.S. graduate fellow, I completed research on the population ecology of Drosophila ( a genus of small flies often called the fruit fly) and collaborated with the Wagner Free Institute of Science, a local natural history museum, to develop and implement a hands-on, place-based science curriculum to under-served youth in the Philadelphia School District,” says Bergerson. After graduating from SJU, she worked as a Conservation Associate for the National Park Service at Lava Beds National Monument in northern California. While working in California, she led in the development of the Wilderness Stewardship Plan, conducted various wildlife studies, and worked as a wild land firefighter.

“I returned to Philadelphia in 2005 to work as the Program Manager for the National Science Foundation GK-12 program at SJU. I worked with teachers, graduate students, university faculty, and museum educators to facilitate the school-university-museum partnership offering science outreach programs,” says Bergerson.

What People Would Be Surprised to Learn about Philadelphia’s Wildlife

“Wildlife in Philadelphia is incredible. I love going to work because I get to share this wonderful place with visitors and connect them with nature. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a child’s face when they encounter a deer on the trail for the first time or when volunteers realize that they truly do make a difference when pulling a seemingly endless amount of invasive plants to improve habitat for the native plant and animal species that call Heinz NWR home,” says Bergerson.

“It’s amazing what you can see on a short walk just a few minutes away from major highways and public transit lines. Heinz NWR provides habitat for the microscopic phytoplankton and copepods at the bottom of the food chain all the way to the nesting Bald Eagles at the top of the food chain. It is amazing how such a delicate web of life can be maintained in such an urban environment. The presence of so many bird species, as well as the state-endangered Red-bellied Turtle and Leopard Frog, demonstrate the importance of protecting habitats like the ones found at Heinz NWR. I even saw Wild Turkeys from my office window last week!”