LATROBE, PA – Matthew Balas has been part of the men's soccer team at Saint Vincent College for four seasons, but his career as a collegiate athlete will soon come to a close. This past summer, Balas joined a new team, one that he hopes to remain with for a long time.
A senior goalkeeper and environmental science major from Gettysburg, Balas had an opportunity to serve a summer internship with the Army Corps of Engineers.
He found the internship through one of his professors, Dr. Caryl Fish, who posted a list of opportunities for her students. The Army Corps of Engineers, a civilian branch of the United States Army, was looking for summer interns and Balas decided to apply.
"They needed to fill positions, and it was a broad application covering many locations," said Balas. "They look at resumes and see if you're applicable to what they need for the summer."
Balas was offered an opportunity to work in Confluence, Pennsylvania, less than an hour from the SVC campus. "I started out performing park ranger duties, then added jobs that were directly tied to my major, such as stream studies at the Youghiogheny River, where it is dammed in Confluence."
He was a bit skeptical going into the internship. "Dr. Fish said it was a very time-intensive program, and you had to definitely know you wanted to do this if you went ahead. It did concern me a little at that time I was applying for an internship when I didn't really know what I wanted to do. But it was well worth it in the end."
His primary role was to keep tabs on the overall water quality of the area, to benefit the health of fish and insects. "We check for pollutant levels," said Balas, "part of an ongoing study with the Chestnut Ridge chapter of Trout Unlimited."
The hours were long throughout the summer, as he worked from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., but his dedication allowed him to stay on board with the program this fall. "They have a Pathways program, that sets up interns for full-time positions," said Balas. "Right now I'm working three days a week, two hours a day. I'm keeping my foot in the door and hoping I can transition to full-time after I graduate in May.
"I enjoy it immensely and can see myself making a career out of this," he said. "I didn't even know the Army Corps did anything like this, so it was an eye-opening experience for me. I learned a lot about what they did."
Balas said that what he learned at his internship can be applied to being part of a team at Saint Vincent. "The entire corps organization is team-oriented and has team training on how to be a leader. I've been able to take those lessons and transition over to soccer here at Saint Vincent. The Corps preaches cool-headedness, level thinking, making sound decisions and being confident, backing up your teammates every step of the way. I took that to heart and brought it back to my team this year."
He added, "My supervisor didn't miss a chance to tie things into leadership. When we would be interacting with public as park rangers, whenever we would be done with an interaction and would be in the ranger vehicle driving away, he would quiz me, from a ranger standpoint. He would ask, if I took charge of the situation, did I help to de-escalate the situation, or have people look to me as a calming point? That's mainly what rangers are there for, to ease disputes and protect resources.
"I think SVC as a school prepared me very well for my internship and future career. My supervisors were impressed with what I already knew going into it, and also impressed with my background as an athlete. I was impressed with the team atmosphere at the internship and brought that back to Saint Vincent."
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