Georgia Department of Agriculture

The Inside Buzz Newsletter - Summer 2021


Summer 2021 Bulletin 5

GDA Internship Program - building the next generation of workers

Since Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black took office in 2011, the Georgia Department of Agriculture has hosted dozens of interns in various divisions and programs within the Department’s oversight. These students come from several Georgia universities and colleges, studying majors both directly and indirectly relating to agriculture. This summer, we have 10 interns working in different divisions at GDA.  

Internship positions are primarily based out of the Department’s headquarters building in Downtown Atlanta, with additional positions at the Tifton Laboratory, which serves as the Department’s South Georgia base of operations. Most internships last anywhere from 10-16 weeks, with hours depending on the division and specific requirements of an individual internship. This summer, we have interns working in Public Policy, Operations, Licensing, Food Safety, Animal Feed, Market Bulletin, Emergency Management and Structural Pest.  

Students who are interested in a possible internship opportunity with the Department can learn more here and submit an application.
Read up on each of our divisions here

This year, I have the pleasure to serve as one of the coordinators for the internship program so reach out to me directly if you would like to learn more.

Derrick Lastinger is the division director for the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Structural Pest Division and serves as vice chairman on the Georgia Structural Pest Control Commission.  
Ali Ikner - My summer as an intern with the Georgia Department of Agriculture was set into motion by what I felt, at the time, to be misfortune. I had planned to spend the summer studying abroad in Morocco and Finland, to learn about culture, international agriculture, and the philosophy of food. The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic brought those plans to a screeching halt, as international travel was off the table and both study abroad programs were canceled. With a summer now free of other commitments, I applied for an internship with the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA). I was selected to intern with the Structural Pest Division (SPD) and was exposed to an industry I had long been aware of but had not understood, and certainly had not fully appreciated. Now, over a year later, I am writing this as a full-time field inspector for the division, following the completion of a second internship.
My first summer as an intern was spent primarily in the Atlanta GDA office. I spent much of my time answering phone calls or doing data entry. Though such tasks may sound menial, I was quickly impressed by rigorous standards required to become licensed in structural pest control in Georgia, and the continuing education required to maintain certification once you had attained it. This was also in the earlier months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was struck by the resiliency of the industry professionals. While much of the nation was shutting down, pest control was deemed an essential service. There were still homes and businesses to protect from wood destroying organisms and household pests, so the work carried on though temporary adjustments had to be made.
I was also impressed by the members of the SPD stationed at the Atlanta office. They seemed capable of answering every obscure question about regulation hurled their way. This also happened to be around the time the Asian Giant Hornets were making a buzz. They were broadcasted on local news stations under their sensationalized name “murder hornets,” though they had not made it to Georgia yet, or anywhere east of the Mississippi River, according to UGA Extension. The office staff patiently answered each call made by a panicked Georgia resident convinced the murder hornets were in their own backyard. The office staff would explain it was almost certainly a European Giant Hornet or Cicada Killer and direct them to sources to help them identify the insect and helped those still convinced it was a “murder hornet” get in contact with entomological experts that could help them get a definitive answer. They answered each of these calls with empathy for the panicked callers, despite the fact that each one was a false alarm- even now a year later the Asian Giant Hornet has not been found in Georgia.

Though my time in the Atlanta office gave me a glimpse of what it means to be a public servant, responding to the concerns of consumers and industry professionals alike, it wasn’t until I began a second internship, this one in the field, that I got a full understanding of what being an inspector for the SPD entails. I had never been in a crawl space before this internship, so learning that inspecting them was one of the many things inspectors can be called to do made me a bit apprehensive. However, once I got under the first house and I was able to lay my eyes on the damage wood destroying organisms can cause, I quickly came to understand how important such inspections are to catch signs of infestation as early as possible and treat them properly. It turned out looking for evidence of wood destroying organisms was quite interesting and made the time in the tight crawl spaces easier to bear. My nervousness was misplaced, it was the day after the crawl I should have been apprehensive about. My core muscles were so sore I had to plead with my coworkers at school not to make jokes- it hurt to laugh.

Though every day was not filled with such excitement, I recognized the importance of the more routine inspections as well. Pest control companies are trusted to apply treatment measures inside homes, schools, restaurants, and businesses. Ensuring everything is done correctly and safely is important. Many of the company representatives I met as an intern at routine inspections were willing to share their expertise and helped further deepen my understanding of the industry.

Some months into my field internship I got to assist with my first treatment on a structure, a historic home infested with wood-boring beetles. The home had multiple crawl spaces, so SPD members were split into teams in order to treat them all. We donned coveralls, respirators, gloves and goggles and set to work. Even with all of us working, it took us several hours spread across two days to finish the large task of treating the entire structure. Though I had been in enough crawl spaces for inspections at this point that the crawl itself did not cause me any soreness, I was certainly not used to having to pump up a sprayer in such close quarters and lacked any semblance of grace maneuvering with the sprayer. I emerged from the crawl space both days filthy, exhausted and with a terrible ache in my arms and shoulders. I have the utmost admiration for anyone who does such work frequently!

There is so much I have gained through my internships with the GDA. I have gotten to meet some phenomenal industry professionals and learn from brilliant scientists in structural pest management. I was encouraged to do new and challenging things. I was a touch squeamish about bugs before this job, but after spending an afternoon sharing a crawl space with house centipedes, I think I’ve overcome that as well. I have a newfound appreciation for everything pest management professionals do to protect homes and families. The internships even led me to a career I had never considered before. I’m now part of a wonderful team doing work I feel is meaningful in the SPD. Though I’m sure not every GDA intern will leave with an entirely new goal for their life, I am certain they will be exposed to new challenges and experiences and will get to work with talented people. I highly encourage any student who thinks they might be interested to apply. Applications for the next year typically open in December and close in February
Ali Ikner is the SPD Inspector in the Macon-Central GA district for the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Structural Pest Division
Hi, my name is Ryann, and I am an intern with the Structural Pest Division at the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA). I am a rising senior biology major and environmental science minor at Georgia College & State University, where I also play for the Women’s College soccer team. I always knew I wanted to work in agriculture and study the science of life itself, so the GDA is a great way to continue pursuing my dreams.  I have always been intrigued how science and government policies work together to ensure safe usage of pesticides while protecting our health and environment.   Through my internship, I am getting firsthand knowledge of the partnership needed between industry and the regulatory division of the GDA to make this possible. 
I primarily work in the Atlanta office where I assist structural pest companies renewing their licenses, verify employee registrations, process license applications, enter continuing education training, and answer phone calls from the pest control industry and consumers. I continue to get an in-depth overview and understanding of the licensing program and the role it plays in pesticide safety.  So far, I have been able to inspect crawlspaces under houses, visit the Atlanta Farmer’s Market, tour the Atlanta GDA Laboratory, explore the Structural Pest Training Center at the UGA Griffin campus, and represent GDA at the Butterfly Festival at the Chattahoochee Nature Center.   I am surprised at how much outreach is provided by the GDA and the collaboration between the department and regulated community.  It is a great insight, and this experience is meeting all expectations. 

I am looking forward to so much more this summer and I am eager to learn from everyone in the Structural Pest Division!

Ryann Smith is a Summer Intern in the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Structural Pest Division.  
The next meeting of the Georgia Structural Pest Control Commission is August 10th. 

License Renewal Deadline- June 30th

Independence Day - July 5th 
state holiday

Labor Day - September 6th 
state holiday 

License Late Renewal Deadline - September 30th

We provide compliance assistance on most regulatory requirements.  Contact us with your question(s) and we will be in touch.
If we can’t answer your questions over the phone, we will send out a representative to review your specific situation and documentation and provide guidance on regulatory compliance.
SPD Atlanta Office
Georgia Department of Agriculture
Structural Pest Division, Room 411
Atlanta, Georgia 30334
(404) 656-3641
The Structural Pest newsletter is produced by the Structural Pest Division in an effort to inform all Structural Pest Control Companies and certified operators of state and national updates.  

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