He parlayed his Eagle Scout service project into a paid internship

John Foong during a visit to Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Va., for his internship. While there, Foong and his colleagues helped with water sampling and invasives surveying. (All photos courtesy of John Foong)

The impact of an Eagle Scout service project lingers long after the supplies are returned to the shed and the last group photo is taken.

Yes, the community feels the impact for years, decades or longer — a reminder that there are young people out there making a difference.

But let’s not forget the effect felt by the Eagle Scouts themselves.

Sometimes these are subtle — manifested as increased confidence when talking to adults or newfound skills in planning a project. And sometimes these are more obvious, such as when an Eagle Scout service project helps a young person land an internship.

That’s just what happened to John Foong, a 19-year-old Eagle Scout from Troop 159 of Fairfax County, Va., part of the D.C.-based National Capital Area Council.

Foong’s Eagle project helped him secure a paid summer internship with the Fairfax County Park Authority. In addition to providing some always-welcome spending money, the internship will help Foong as he completes his degree in environmental resource management at Virginia Tech.

“I’ve always been interested in nature, and Scouting gave me a lot of opportunities to appreciate it,” Foong says. “Respect toward nature is a fundamental part of Scouts, after all.”

John Foong (center), during an initial assessment of the Frying Pan Farm Park site for his project with the park’s naturalist (Patrick McNamara, left) and its historic farm educator (Sean Redmiles).

What was the project?

Foong earned the Eagle Scout Award in 2019. For his Eagle project, Foong led a team of youth and adult volunteers in an effort to remove invasive Japanese stiltgrass at Frying Pan Farm Park.

Like most invasive species, this grass (scientific name Microstegium vimineum) grows very easily in a variety of habitats. Its dense growth pattern crowds out native species, denying them sunlight and rain.

Japanese stiltgrass has been found as far west as Texas and in nearly every state in the eastern United States except Maine.

“When I started out, I actually didn’t know a lot about invasives at all, but I learned a lot about them from the people I met during this project,” Foong says. “It was also my first time working with the Park Authority’s Invasive Management Area program, which organizes cleanup efforts across the county.”

After talking with his Eagle advisor, Foong wanted his project to go beyond merely clearing out the invasive plant species. He wanted to cause a lasting change.

“Some invasive plants can have seeds that last for several years, which makes it important to think ahead and decide how to bring about a long-term impact,” Foong says.

So he starting spreading awareness by setting up a table at events in his community — telling anyone who would listen how to identify invasive plant species and eradicate them.

“Compared to a few years ago, more and more people are aware of the harm invasives can cause and how to treat them,” Foong says. “It’s a change that’s been great to observe.”

The green states show locations where Japanese stiltgrass has been detected. (EDDMapS. 2021. Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System. The University of Georgia – Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health.)

What’s the internship?

Foong’s internship with the Park Authority involves collecting data for a countywide invasive plant survey. The Park Authority uses this data to prioritize which sites need treatment or restoration.

He’s also been able to learn on the job, asking his professional colleagues for details about their work, which includes more involved efforts like transplanting native species and restoring habitats.

As you’d guess in a job involving plants, Foong spends most of his day outside. That’s yet another facet where his Scouting experience comes in handy.

“We usually stay outdoors for the whole day identifying plants and surveying the surrounding area,” Foong says. “Dealing with 90-degree weather, ticks, mosquitoes, and thorns is no joke. Having experience with the outdoors from Scouting events like high-adventure trips helps out a lot in this case.”

This summer, Foong has dealt with scrapes, stings and bug bites. A wasp got caught in his hair one day, and he watched a coworker get chased out of the woods by yellow jackets.

“It’s pretty much safe to expect the unexpected,” he says.

But it’s worth it, Foong says, because he knows he’s doing work that matters.

“We can all encourage meaningful action that changes things for the better, both within and outside of Scouts,” Foong says. “Remember that there are a lot of things you can learn, both through Scouts and elsewhere. What matters the most, however, is putting in the effort to use that knowledge for the better. Always keep moving forward.”

Thanks to Will Rodger, chair of the National Capital Area Council’s conservation committee, for the tip.

About Bryan Wendell 3282 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.