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Natural Heritage Graduate Student Residency Program



The mission of the IL DNR Natural Heritage Graduate Student Residency Program is to provide graduate students in natural resource and/or conservation disciplines significant and meaningful technical and professional work experience commensurate with their education and level of academic training.


Program Goal

The goal of the IL DNR Natural Heritage Graduate Student Residency Program is to develop in successful Resident candidates a wide variety of applied and on-the-ground skills complementing their academic training and improving their qualifications and experiences for entry into the professional natural resources job market.

The IL DNR will achieve this goal through partnerships with regional colleges’ and universities’ graduate schools in identifying appropriate candidates, providing opportunity and support for students over a 12 month residency term, and, as appropriate, recognizing the Residency as a component of the student’s degree curriculum and professional development.

Residents are an essential part of IDNR’s effort to identify, protect, steward, and defend Illinois’ natural heritage.  Residents enable the division to significantly further its mission beyond the capacity of regular staff.  Resident contributions, ranging from natural area stewardship to species recovery planning, improve the status of Illinois’ natural heritage.

Program Description

IL DNR Natural Heritage Graduate Student Residency Program provides full-time, 12-month employment with IDNR’s Division of Natural Heritage and/or the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission for qualified and currently enrolled graduate students. 

Most Residents mentor under field-based staff of the above organizations and develop skills and knowledge in natural areas identification, protection, stewardship and defense, as well as conservation of rare resources (e.g. E & T species).  These positions are located in field offices throughout the state.

On occasion, there are Residency positions in our agency’s headquarters in Springfield, IL.  While these Residents will also be provided some on-the-ground experiences with field-based staff, they will mentor under staff having state-wide responsibilities for program development, policy, and implementation.

For the duration of the Residency, a successful applicant is treated as a State of Illinois employee and is provided benefits (e.g. insurance, retirement, paid time off) and reimbursement for all allowed expenses (e.g. related travel costs).

While many past Residents have obtained future employment with the IDNR or other state agencies, there is no obligation on the part of the state, including IL DNR, to hire a Resident on a permanent basis after completion of the program.

Residency positions are posted on an as needed/irregular basis and the number of positions available at any time is dependent on state appropriations.  Selection processes are governed by state policy and procedures.  See Current Openings for up-to-date listing.

What Residents do

Residents are expected to participate in a wide variety of field- and office-based activities that promote the conservation of natural areas and rare resources, especially the coordination and implementation of management plan objectives and stewardship actions.  Those activities include but are not limited to:

  • Control of exotic and invasive species with a variety of techniques including herbicides
  • Identification and evaluation of natural communities and natural areas
  • Participation in prescribed burns to manage natural areas and restorations
  • Biological surveys and inventories and the analysis of collected data, including GPS and GIS.
  • Educational events for other professionals and the interested public
  • Preparation of technical reports and documents, including background reference searches, to protect, manage and/or defend natural areas and rare resources
  • Provide assistance to the public and private sectors in natural areas preservation, endangered species protection, and rare resource stewardship
  • Become familiar with Illinois’ natural resources’ law, policies and procedures

What Residents can expect to gain from the program

While specific activities and processes can vary somewhat depending on the location, mentor organization, and immediate resource needs, all Residents can be expected to gain an unprecedented level of meaningful work experiences that will serve them well in the job market.  Residents are provided with training and may be eligible for certifications which they take with them upon the completion of the program (e.g. prescribed burn training and certification, herbicide application certification, chain saw training).  These trainings and certifications are important additions to applications for future, permanent employment with IDNR and elsewhere.

Additionally, Residents can expect to:

  • Network with resource professionals and organizations within and outside of state government
  • Identify specific or more focused career interests
  • Develop multiple skill sets to enhance future employment potential
  • Put classroom knowledge into practice on-the-ground
  • Develop critical thinking skills
  • Understand the relationship between science, public policy, and agency programs
  • Grasp the philosophy of life-long learning

All of which lead to an increased likelihood of future, permanent employment in a natural resources-related field. See “Where are they now?”