My Corkscrew Internship: Lasting Life Lessons

Conni Calhoon was an intern at the Sanctuary in 1984.

Dear Corkscrew Sanctuary Director,

My name is Conni Rasmussen. 38 years ago, I was an intern at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the legend Ed Carlson was my boss. My husband and I are coming to the Sanctuary for our 33rd wedding anniversary because it is my most treasured place on earth.  We have not been here together since we brought our boys here in 2005, then ages 4 and 7, and stayed in the once-called Sprunt Cabin. Some want a 5-star resort for a wedding anniversary, but I want to see, hear, touch, and smell my swamp!

Conni (Calhoon) Rasmussen grew up in Great Bridge, a small town near Chesapeake, Virginia. While pursuing her degree in biology at Old Dominion University, she led the way for ODU students to take advantage of internships such as the one at the Sanctuary. In January 1984, she and a handful of other interns arrived on-site in our dormitory where they lived for six months. Because the Sanctuary does not currently have any lodging facilities available, Conni wasn’t able to stay at the Sanctuary for her anniversary, but we were very happy to meet her when she came with her family in March 2022. We sat down with her to hear about her memories and learn what she has been up to for the past 40 years.

Q: Do you remember what it was about this internship that interested you most?
A: The word swamp! I was called a “swamp rat” in college because I loved being in a swamp more than most.  I grew up near the Great Dismal Swamp and still enjoy spending time there.

Q: Where were you attending college and what was your major?
A: Old Dominion University in Norfolk VA, a Biology major

Q: What was the most important thing you learned during your internship at Corkscrew Sanctuary?
A: Never be afraid to go after what you want.  At Old Dominion University, where I went to college, they had never dealt with internships for biology majors. They told me that I could not get college credit for an internship for biology. I did not give up, followed through, and I was the first to get an internship in biology at ODU. I was happy to pave the way for those bio majors that followed!

Q: What did you do after you completed your internship? Did you get a job in the environmental field?
A: I worked for the Virginia State Parks as a naturalist and later for the Virginia Aquarium.

Q: What is your fondest memory from your time at Corkscrew Sanctuary? 
A: Going into the backcountry as a group of interns where we learned to call in owls, see huge wild boars, and help with controlled burns. It was all so new to me, and I could not get enough of the backcountry.

Q: What did you do after college?
A: I changed gears in 1995 and moved to England to attend Oxford University earning an MS in international science education and statistical research methods in 1996. Throughout my jobs in biology, I found that I really enjoyed teaching people, but mainly teens about anything related to nature and being outdoors. After Oxford, I remained in education. I have been a Biology, Environmental Science, and Oceanography teacher, in both the USA and Switzerland, as well as a high school administrator. I was a director of a Middle School in Switzerland, as well. 

Q: What are you doing now?
A: The thing I am most proud of is my most recent journey of becoming the owner of a small business called Simple Teen Life, LLC, which was established in 2017. The mission is to Slow Teen Life Down. The entire staff is composed of teens.  Each season we create a nature-based themed subscription box where a portion of the proceeds is given to teens in foster care in Virginia. We also have a Military Mailer for our soldiers ages 18-21.

Q: Did your Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary internship make an impact on your career?
A: My internship was the beginning of my career in education without me realizing it. I loved teaching and talking to visitors about the environment when I was an intern. It's hard to believe it has been almost 4 decades! Still some of my best memories of college ever!

How you can help, right now