A Graham Adventure
World Traveler Shawn Graham Forges New Path and Career at Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery

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Graham during a school tour at Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery

My name is Shawn Graham, and while I’ve spent many years traveling and living around the world with my family, I still call Biloxi, Mississippi, home. Growing up, going to the beach for any reason, or none at all, was a regular routine for my friends and me. I played soccer throughout my childhood, and if I was not doing that, I was fishing. 

I met my wife in high school. She came from a background of many interests and loves the outdoors just as much as I do. As the years passed, we explored, traveled, got married and eventually had children. 

I joined the U.S. Air Force in 2004 and worked in aircraft armament systems. I spent many long days on the flight line, and it was a great learning experience. In 2007, we moved to Italy where we had our first son, Elyjah. We spent several years living in various places overseas and really enjoyed immersing ourselves in the different cultures. 

In 2010, I decided to separate from the Air Force and pursue a different career path. I was not sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to eventually go back to college. 

In 2012, I accepted a contract in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates doing the same work I did in the military, and my wife, son, and I hopped on another plane for a new experience. While still living in Abu Dhabi, we had our second son, Micah in 2014. We stayed in the UAE until 2016 when we moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, for a different contract doing the same type of work. At that point, the contracts I was working on were not satisfying enough for me to want to continue in that line of work, so I decided to go to school to study something meaningful to me.

In 2020, I used my G.I. Bill and started working toward a degree in geographic information systems and aerial mapping. While on the college search, I came across Portland Community College because they had the classes I was looking to take that I could not find at most other colleges. I started taking courses online at PCC before we moved to Redmond, Oregon, in 2021. There weren’t many options as far as places we would want to move our family that provided the type of nature and outdoor activities that we enjoy, while meeting our other needs financially. We had never been there but knew there would be plenty of outdoors and nature to explore.

In 2022, we had our daughter, Zuri Nyx. I became a licensed drone pilot – I’ve had a fascination for drones and mapping software for years. I knew I wanted to somehow pursue this line of work full-time.

I found out about the Mount Adams Institute’s VetsWork program through my wife – we were both looking for careers in natural resources or conservation and she came across the VetsWork internship online. She suggested I have a look at the positions they had to offer. After reading the position description for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological science technician at the Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery, I was extremely interested. Because the position would require my family to relocate from Redmond to Estacada, Oregon, my wife and I decided to visit the local area, view the housing, and make our decision on whether to pursue the internship. After meeting my supervisor, Jeremiah, and seeing the housing, it was an easy decision for everyone. 

I’ve now been living at the hatchery with my family for a year and recently renewed my internship for a second year with Mount Adams Institute. We love living here and the experience thus far has been amazing for everyone. We enjoy walking out our front door into nature. We’ve seen a ton of wildlife living here – even bears!

The work I do at the hatchery can range from cleaning fish ponds to spawning Pacific salmon. This hatchery raises coho salmon, and I get to participate in a variety of tasks such as feeding fish, collecting and analyzing water samples, and learning techniques to avoid diseases that are common in this work. The learning experiences I’ve had since being here have been nothing short of amazing. I get the independence I enjoy when getting my work done, and there is such an extreme connection to nature. I live on site, so walking out of my door to the hatchery building is a huge benefit!

In the future, I’m hoping to get a permanent position with Service or the U.S. Forest Service with a heavy concentration or focus in doing GIS/mapping work. Over the years, I’ve been able to narrow down the career path I want to be on, and working outdoors and with mapping software are both rewarding and meaningful work for me.

For anyone wanting to change the career path they are on, I would say it’s never too late to do so. There are so many programs out there for veterans to benefit from, such as Mount Adams Institute, that will help with skill development and training. I would suggest someone wanting a change to research those programs and work with someone to find the right place for you. 

Doing work that is personally rewarding and meaningful is extremely important in providing the best service you can long-term. Natural resources and conservation are both personally and professionally meaningful to me, and I’m happy I made that change and joined this program. I’ve made many connections since being in this program that I may not have otherwise made on my own.

I’m happy that I get to share this experience with my family. Two sons, a daughter, and many countries later, we are still just as adventurous (if not more) as ever!


Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery raises approximately 850k coho salmon annually. The hatchery releases 350,000 coho on site and transfers 500,000 to the Yakama Nation and 550,000 to support coho restoration projects in their watersheds.

Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery is part of the Columbia River Gorge National Fish Hatchery Complex, which includes the Carson, Eagle Creek, Little White Salmon, Spring Creek, Warm Springs, and Willard National Fish Hatcheries. The complex propagates, releases, and transfers over 25 million salmon to partners to meet the Service’s Tribal Trust, fisheries mitigation, and restoration responsibilities. 

The Graham family at the Mount Adams Institute's service project day planting trees along the Sandy River Delta in Oregon.

Story Tags

Anadromous fish
Fish hatcheries
Internship programs