Waconia grad works with wolves

By Chad Richardson
For The Patriot

Shauntel Stahlke

For years, Shauntel Stahlke’s career path was a clear one. She’d be a pastry chef. She loved baking and was certain that she’d pursue the craft when she graduated from high school.

Those plans were thwarted, though, thanks to two great high school teachers who instilled a love of the outdoors in Stahlke. So much so that when she enrolled in college a few years ago, her major had changed dramatically.

Stahlke, a Plato native and 2012 graduate of Waconia High School, is now double majoring in wildlife biology and science education at Bemidji State University. This summer, she’s able to put both to work after earning a coveted internship at the International Wolf Center in Ely. She’s one of six summer interns at the non-profit’s interpretative center in Ely, which houses seven ambassador wolves.

This summer’s internship isn’t the first relevant work experience for Stahlke. She worked during the summer of 2015 at Isle Royale National Park as a visitor’s service intern and it was there she learned more about the International Wolf Center. She eventually applied for the wolf internship and got the news last winter that she’d earned one of the six spots. Nearly 60 college students from across the nation applied.

“When I saw the posting on a job board, I looked into it and thought, ‘That’s a place I really want to be,’” said Stahlke, who is the daughter of Cheryl and Stuart Stahlke.

Krista Harrington, the Interpretive Center Manager, said Stahlke was chosen with her fellow interns for two main reasons.

“The six interns we ended up with were the six who I really thought had a lot of passion, combined with experience,” Harrington said. “More importantly, I wanted them to be passionate about talking to people about wolves, even if we had to do some work on the details about wolves. The passion to teach people was there for all of them.”

Duties for the interns range on a given day. More often than not, visitors will find them answering questions and leading educational programs.

“Their primary focus is interacting with the public in a couple different ways,” Harrington said. “They will be interpreting the wolf behavior and answering questions. Which one is that? What kind of wolf is that? How much do they weigh? Their other primary focus is educating during programs. They’ll lead the daily programs that are offered every hour in the auditorium for visitors.”

Stahlke had her sights set on working with dough, but when she found herself in a conservation biology course and a winter biology course at Waconia High, things started to change quickly. Teachers Wayne Trapp and Michael Jensen both got her thinking about a new career path, she said.

“They inspired me through those classes,” she said. “They were so passionate. I learned a lot, and it sparked something in me. Forget baking. Go for biology. Ever since then, I’ve learned to love all aspects of science.
“My brain switched and was like, ‘You need to go for this.’ My parents were like, ‘Wait. I’ve been telling my friends you’re going to be a pastry chef and now you’re going for biology?’”

When she graduates, Stahlke hopes to run an educational center or be a wildlife biologist. She is aiming to graduate in the spring of 2018.

During her summer internship, Stahlke will have a key role in leading the group tours at the International Wolf Center. Those tours can be either day trips or overnight trips. The overnight trips have been especially popular with groups as they’re able to camp overnight in the center’s auditorium and watch the wolves on the other side of the glass throughout the night.

Several wolf biology camps and events will also be led by Stahlke and the rest of the interns.

Stahlke will work until mid-August, then prepare for another year of classwork. Meanwhile, at the center, work will begin in November to find another six interns for the summer of 2018. Anyone interested in one of the internships should watch for updates on www.wolf.org.

The International Wolf Center’s interpretive center in Ely attracts more than 40,000 visitors a year. The center is a Minnesota-based non-profit that seeks to advance the survival of wolves by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.

For more information about the center and its mission, visit www.wolf.org.