This article was originally published by HBS Recruiting: Insights & Advice.

Hi all, my name is Rhea! I was lucky enough to work for the National Park Service this summer as a business management intern with the Submerged Resources Center (SRC). The SRC is the NPS national dive program, responsible for documentation, research, and maintenance of shipwrecks, reefs, downed WWII planes, boat docks, and everything in between. My role was to help them design a more sustainable operating and funding model to ensure their long-term viability within the park service.

Before I started at HBS, I was a medical device engineer working on products for Operating Rooms and Intensive Care Units. I came to school passionate about access and equity in health care, and curious about systemic barriers to resources that allow communities to live healthy lives. As soon as I got to campus though, I realized I had no idea how those interests translated into a career path. At least, not yet.

The first two months of RC (first) year were a blur. I had never really thought about my career so holistically before—I studied biomedical engineering as an undergrad, and immediately became a … biomedical engineer. The resources at HBS were simultaneously empowering and overwhelming, because I felt like I actually had the privilege to pursue opportunities that were never even open to me before, but also felt like I needed to use that privilege to find the best opportunities I could.

I remember finding the listing for the internship with the National Park Service in October, and texting everyone I knew about it. “There’s no way this is a real job,” I joked with my friends. You get paid to live and work in a national park? Doing management consulting? No way. As a native Californian and landscape photographer, so many of my favorite childhood and adult memories took place in national parks. I spent 80% of the pandemic going up and down parks along the Pacific Coast Highway. Using business skills to give back to an organization that had provided so much joy sounded too good to be true.

I reached out to two ECs (second years) who had done the internship the previous summer, and learned that yes, this was a real internship. But more importantly, I learned that this internship was very structured, provided high-impact work, gave a lot of insight into the federal government, and qualified for the additional funding support from the Social Enterprise Fellows program​. Both ECs also mentioned that the program both found and paid for intern housing, which was an incredible benefit. I decided to apply, while still looking around at different opportunities at health care startups or venture studios. I had been convinced that this internship was an exciting opportunity, but it still felt like my side passion project, versus my “career search.”

Long story short, I ended up receiving the offer. I wouldn’t know what park I would be placed at until after accepting the offer, but options on the table were Yosemite, Point Reyes, Grand Canyon, Puerto Rico, Denver, and many other incredible locations. I was in the middle of a few other interview cycles for various health care roles, and I was completely torn. Do I accept the role with NPS, or continue to engage with the career path I thought I wanted before school? So many ECs I had talked to had had 50/50 experiences with startups, citing remote work, nebulous job descriptions, and lack of fulfillment as their gripes. This role promised solutions to all of those concerns.

I reached out to professors, friends, and even dropped into Career & Professional Development for a 5-minute gut check to try and figure out—is it okay to just follow joy? Was I giving something up by not pursuing health care directly, and doing something that felt fulfilling, fun, and exciting? I realized I had come to HBS to navigate new careers, but I also came to try and understand more about what drove me. The more I talked about this role to the people I trusted, the more I saw how truly excited I was by the opportunity. It also was the perfect role to understand more about public sector work by completing a fast-paced, impactful project. More broadly, I could learn how an organization like the park service had increased access to resources (land) for generations. I slowly came to see that if I didn’t accept the role, I would regret it.

I took the offer and was ultimately placed in Denver to work with the Submerged Resources team. Our cohort of interns had a week-long orientation in the Grand Canyon, where I hung out with other people excited about sunrises, hiking, history, and government. Once I got to Colorado, I got to work with the absolute coolest group of researchers, passionate about shipwrecks, diving technology, underwater photography, history, and climate change. I ended up focusing a lot on financial analysis for the team and putting together various communications documents for them to help demonstrate their value across the park service. We presented to senior leadership and were able to secure some major wins for the team and the region.

That summer, I learned so much about the park service, and even more about myself. During the week, I was surrounded by the kindest, most mission-driven coworkers. I spent my weekends exploring Colorado’s stunning mountains, chasing wildflowers, and of course, visiting other national parks nearby. We even got to go on a site visit out to Biscayne National Park in Florida, to observe the team in action, and work with a few community groups. I learned way too much about shipwrecks all over the country. It was truly an unforgettable three months. ​​​

Did I walk away from my summer with clarity for my career? Not really, but I don’t regret chasing joy. I got to refine my business skills while putting them towards a goal that I cared deeply about. I learned that I thrive in settings that surround me with mission-driven people, and I cannot wait to see how that informs my full-time search this coming year. While I’m currently leaning back towards exploring health care, I’m leaving my eyes and ears open for more once-in-a-lifetime opportunities where I can combine both practicality and passion. Ideally with some mountains and oceans thrown in.