Park Break: A unique learning fellowship for graduate students thinking about a career working in parks, protected areas, or cultural sites

Learn what it's like to manage a national park in a national park

Park Break is an all-expenses-paid, park-based field seminar for graduate students who are thinking about a career in park management or park-related research and education. Park Break puts you in a national park unit (or in an area being served by the National Park Service) for five days of field and classroom activities in close collaboration with park scientists and scholars, managers and administrators, and partner organizations. 



Park Break 2016: Documenting Sites of Music History in Detroit • August 8–12, 2016

The application period is now closed.

Park Break 2016 is coming to the city of Detroit as part of the National Park Service's Urban Agenda.  Working under the close supervision of Historic Preservation staff, students will explore four nationally and locally significant sites of music in the city of Detroit. These include the Baker’s Keyboard Lounge located at 20510 Livernois Ave, the United Sound System Recording Studios at 5840 2nd Ave, the Bluebird Inn on 5021 Tireman, and Motown at 2648 W Grand Blvd, Detroit.

Students will undertake physical documentation of the specific buildings and their cultural landscape. A deeper understanding of this site-specific history will be developed through oral interviews within a contextual framework. Studying the history of these music sites provides an opportunity to better understand the strategies African Americans employed to create businesses and employment opportunities for their communities within the constraints of segregation and racial discrimination. Moreover, such a study contributes to new understandings of adaptive reuse strategies, as African Americans re-purposed individual buildings for new uses. In addition to gaining new knowledge and understanding during this intense one–week internship, students will produce a booklet reflective of the project sites that can serve as an addition to their portfolios.

Learn more about the Detroit soundscape here.

Learning Objectives:

Students will learn how to document historic structures and landscapes according to the Standards and Guidelines prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior. Students will also learn how to conduct oral history interviews, undertake primary research, and employ such resources as Sanborn Insurance maps, Census Records, aerial photography, historic photographs and maps, to understand historic sites. Insight and instruction will be provided regarding the role of research in creating designation documents both federal and local, and in using those documents to both leverage Historic Tax Credits in development and mitigate insensitive demolition or new construction.


This study will be of experiential and educational benefit to the students themselves. It will also contribute to the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department’s continuing efforts to develop comprehensive community histories and better understand the role of historic resources in guiding new development. The study will also contribute to the National Park Service’s initiative to redefine preservation within the American Urban Core.

Who's eligible: Currently enrolled graduate students

Particularly suited for: Students in historic preservation, historic architecture, landscape architecture

Dates of session: August 8–12, 2016

Deadline to apply: The application period is now closed.



Park Break: Find out what it's like to manage a national park

The primary goal of Park Break is to let promising graduate students experience the challenges of managing a national park unit. Through instruction from and dialogue with park resource managers, researchers, administrators, interpreters, and other professionals, Park Break participants will begin to understand the complexity of park research and management. This unique program is not offered anywhere else, as it focuses on scientific and intellectual inquiry at the graduate level specifically related to national parks. Although Park Break is open to graduate students of all backgrounds, an additional goal of the program is to provide minority students with experience in national parks in order to facilitate future careers in the field of parks and protected areas research and management.


Who's eligible?

Graduate students (Ph.D. or Master’s level) who are studying in fields related to parks, protected areas, and cultural sites.  To be eligible, you must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Have completed undergraduate degree and have been accepted into Master's program
  • Current Master's degree candidate
  • Have completed Master's degree and have been accepted into PhD program
  • Current PhD degree candidate (including ABDs)

Students must be currently enrolled at an institute of higher education in either the USA, Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean and actively pursuing a degree.  We regret that we cannot accept applications from students elsewhere. Minority students are especially encouraged to apply.



What happens during the week?

Each Park Break is designed around a specific topic. Not only will you explore that topic in depth, you'll see how it relates to the whole range of challenging issues facing park managers today.

A typical Park Break includes:

  • Presentations by several top-level personnel at the park, such as the superintendent, assistant superintendent, division chiefs, resource managers, staff subject-matter experts (e.g., biologists, historians, etc.).
  • Presentations by outside scientists/scholars who are currently working in the park.
  • Presentations by local NGOs, elected officials, personnel from other parks, etc., who are working with the host park or on issues similar to those facing the host park.
  • One or more field sessions in the park that illustrate the theme and issues being discussed.
  • An excursion into the surrounding community to discuss relevant issues.

For more examples, check out the description of some recent Park Breaks, held in 2012 at Delaware Warter Gap National Recreation Area and at three Boston-area national historical parks.


What's expected of me?

Park Break is not just about a week in a park — it's intended to create an ongoing community of motivated young professionals.  Aside from following the curriculum and activities outlined above, Park Break students are expected to read a packet of background materials before their arrival. Once on-site, you will be assigned a real-life management problem to contemplate during the week, and asked to prepare, as a team, a presentation on proposed solutions that you will offer to the park's staff for discussion and feedback. 

Many students who participate in the program document their experiences as part of the GWS's Park Break Perspectives series, an online collection of papers that captures some of the challenges and rewards of the Park Break program.



Park Break puts you on the path to success

While Park Break is not an employment or internship program, you will be involved with agency personnel who are actively looking to recruit the best young people in the park professions. Several Park Breakers have been hired by the National Park Service and one by the U.S. Forest Service.  Other Park Break alums have embarked on Ph.D. programs.  Park Break makes you and your skills visible!

In addition, Park Break students receive preference for travel scholarships to attend the following George Wright Society Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites — the USA's premier interdisciplinary professional meeting in the field.



Do I have to cover any costs?

Park Break is a fellowship, so all your direct costs — travel to and from the park, lodging and meals while in the park, and any required materials — are paid for.  You are responsible for any non-essential, discretionary expenses you may incur.  You also will need to supply common field gear that may be desirable for the session, such as backpacks, binoculars, cameras, foul-weather clothing, and so on.



Who are the organizers?

The 2016 Park Break is organized by the National Park Service Cultural Resources, Partnerships, and Science program and the NPS Urban Agenda in concert with the George Wright Society, the USA's leading professional association for researchers, resource managers, administrators, educators, and other professionals who work in or on behalf of parks, protected areas, and cultural sites. Depending on the topic, GWS puts on Park Break in cooperation with several partners.  Current and past partners included the US Geological Survey , Colorado State University, Geological Society of America, Student Conservation Association, and Texas A&M University.



Sounds great!  How do I apply?

The application period for the Detroit Park Break is now closed.