Meet Deja Charles: Lead Peer Mentor for NPS Academy

Deja with other interns during her NPS Academy internship at Devils Postpile National Monument.
Deja with other interns during her NPS Academy internship at Devils Postpile National Monument.

Deja is a National Park Service Academy (NPSA) alum who's passionate about conservation and mentorship. The NPSA program provides on-the-job training for college students that the Foundation has funded since 2011. After completing her initial academy internship in 2021 at Devils Postpile National Monument, Deja became a 2022 NPSA peer mentor and eventually the 2023 lead peer mentor for NPSA in a position with the American Conservation Experience (ACE) program, the park and Foundation's NPSA partner.

Deja has experienced Grand Teton several times throughout her career. She returned to the park in 2024 for the NPSA spring break orientation, where she led twenty participants in learning about the NPS mission, exploring potential career paths, and building their community of support in preparation for their summer internship.

We spoke with Deja about her time in NPSA, and how it changed her career trajectory.

Where are you from and had you been to a national park prior to your experience with NPS Academy?

Deja: I am originally from southern California. Before attending NPSA, I had already visited a few national parks. In fact, I was living in Yosemite National Park before discovering NPSA. It was my mentor, Sharon Miyako, who informed me about the program. Sharon is the current chief of interpretation at Yosemite, and she forwarded me a Facebook post about the NPSA application along with the contact information. That's how I learned about NPSA and ultimately got involved with it.

Where were you at in your career when you found NPS Academy?

Deja: As a naturalist, I worked in the Sierra as a whole. I hadn't applied for the park service at that point, so I was trying to find a way to get experience so I could be eligible for the position. Initially, I worked as an environmental educator for local school districts in the Eastern Sierra. Later, I worked as a naturalist with Aramark, a concessionaire in Yosemite National Park. I worked closely with the park service and even underwent the park service training for interpretation. I also obtained my National Association for Interpretation certification. Before my NPSA internship, I had at least two years of experience in interpretation. I think my route was a little different from most people in that way. 

Deja Devils Postpile 1

What was your NPSA experience like?

Deja: I had an amazing experience and I feel like everybody I worked with felt like a family away from home. Our group was small, with only 12 or 13 of us working together at the time, but this allowed us to work well together and support one another. During my internship, I had the opportunity to help build some of the trails in Devils Postpile, which was really cool. Whenever I go back there, I can see parts of the steps that I helped make and feel proud.

The people I worked with during my internship were amazing and I still talk to them to this day. That experience confirmed for me that I wanted to work for the park service, specifically in environmental education. It also affirmed that the path I was on was the right one for me. I found my people not only during my internship, but also within my NPSA cohort. I had heard so many stories that were similar to my own, and I felt like I wasn't alone in this world in regards to my experience, and my interests, but also my weird path of ending up in the park service.

How has the NPSA affected your career path? Did you get any opportunities from being in the program?

Deja: I was able to network with the park service, and that led me to a full-time position at Devils Postpile the following summer. Instead of just getting a GS-5 position, I ended up getting the lead interpretive position, thanks to my experience beforehand. During the winter, I worked as a substitute teacher and a Nordic ski instructor. Then I became what I am today, which is the lead peer mentor for  NPSA through ACE, the park and Foundation's partner for the program. I still wanted to continue with the park service, and then this opportunity came up. I loved NPSA so much, and it's had a profound influence on my life.

What advice do you have for anyone considering the NPSA program?

Deja: I would say go for it. No matter what your age or your experience. Something I learned from the Academy was to say yes to all opportunities. It's something that has changed my life for the better. I'll forever be grateful for that experience. The sky's the limit, and this program is coveted. It is highly respected within the national parks and definitely comes with a lot of respect. So I think it could only benefit anyone who would like to apply.

Deja Devils Postpile 2
We look forward to supporting Deja in leading her role with NPSA and watching her impact continue to unfold in Grand Teton. To learn more about youth programs supported by the Foundation, click HERE.

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