A “mixture of luck and perseverance” landed recent grad Tyler Stephens ’19 in Hawaii. As a wildlife management intern at Maui’s Haleakalā National Park, the former biology major spent four months monitoring endangered bird species. He also took lots of pictures.
“My favorite part was being able to work with and protect the endangered bird species — being able to handle them and band them,” Stephens said. “I was also responsible for predator control of the invasive species threatening the Nēnē [Hawaiian goose] and Ua’u [Hawaiian petrel) populations.”
Stephens had applied to internships in multiple states, including Alaska and California, through the Student Conservation Association, which charges a one-time, $20 dollar membership fee. Most positions featured stipends that covered travel and living costs — perfect for a recent college grad ready to gain experience, Stephens said.
In the end, Maui was the perfect spot for Stephens, who is also an avid photographer. His Instagram account, @fedbyadventure, paints a colorful picture of an unforgettable experience: lush green mountains rising through clouds. Fire-red ocean sunsets, and lively portraits of birds and other animals.
Stephens discovered his passion for photography the summer after his first year at Lynchburg — and he found immediate success. Suffolk Living, his hometown magazine, published his work that same summer.
“Being published helped cement my love of photography,” Stephens said. Sophomore year, he enrolled in a photography class with Dr. Siobhan Byrns. The course checked off a gen ed requirement, but it also helped sharpen his skills.
That year, Stephens was published in Lynchburg Living magazine. While in Hawaii this past fall, his Nēnē shots were shared on multiple news outlets, and one photo ended up on the Haleakalā National Park website.
Photography aside, the University of Lynchburg gave him everything he could hope for, Stephens says — and then some.
“The main reason I chose Lynchburg is because of the Claytor Nature Center,” he said. “I just thought the idea of the University having a nature center in the mountains was very appealing. I had never really seen mountains until going to Lynchburg. Lynchburg gave me a lot more than I expected. So I was really glad I did choose it.”
The Claytor Nature Center offers students hands-on experiences on 491 acres less than 25 miles from campus. In addition to getting some fresh air during class, Stephens also spent a lot of his free time outside — first with the outdoor program, which organizes frequent hikes, and then on his own.
“Those outdoor experiences in the Blue Ridge Mountains really got me into hiking, and after that, I typically went out almost every weekend hiking by myself or with my friends,” Stephens said. “I always brought my camera, of course. Most weekends I would leave around 9 a.m. and stay out hiking as long as possible.”
Stephens is grateful his professors supported all of his passions. In addition to Byrns, there was Dr. Kari Benson, a marine biology professor, and Dr. Eric Proebsting, an archaeology professor who let him take pictures during a dig at Poplar Forest. And then there was Dr. John Styrsky, who teaches biology and served as Stephens’s advisor.
“Dr. Styrsky always supported me in my pursuit of my biology major, definitely towards my internship pursuit, and he has always supported my photography,” Stephens recalled. “I even did a research project with him and [environmental science professor] Dr. Jennifer Styrsky, where they had me use my photography to document insects on Milkweed plants.”
Among the many Lynchburg memories Stephens cherishes, one sentiment stands out.
“I appreciate the kindness everyone at Lynchburg showed me throughout my time there,” he said. “All of my professors were very kind and supportive, and that really made a difference.”