What is Environmental Education Like After College? | eePRO @ NAAEE

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What is Environmental Education Like After College?

I'm Sierra, a soon to be college graduate of the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point (UWSP) with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Education and Interpretation. I wanted to start a thread to get other, more seasoned environmental educators (EE), stories in how they got to where they are today in the EE field.

As a student, I have found that this field is extremely competitive despite the constant need for naturalists and educators everywhere. I've been told that those pursuing a career within this field meant having to be willing to move across of country or at least the state they you in. How long do you have to wait to "settle down" in this career? I mean this in the terms of being able to get married, start a family, and have a stable career to lean into.

I was incredibly fortunate to get EE experience at the Wisconsin Lions Camp as the Environmental Education Specialist during the summer of 2021 that was only 30 minutes from my apartment. The idea of picking up and moving to a new place is daunting for anyone, but more so when you don't know the area in my opinion.

Was it hard for you to move away from what you know? At UWSP the natural world was but a short walk away as more than 70% of our campus is dedicated to a nature reserve. Most of my natural world experience and teaching has been done in central Wisconsin and it makes me nervous to think of packing up and heading across the country to teaching in an area I'm not familiar with.

What I do know as a certain is that passion trumps worry in this instance. Not a single person in the EE field has pursued this career path for fame and fortune, but every single person has had a passion for reaching people and making informed stewards of the earth. I want nothing more than to share this common goal.

If you're able, think back on your experience in college, your internships, your past jobs within the field. Then think about where you are now. How did you get there and what is your life like based on the path you took?

Dear Sierra,
What a thought-provoking question. Thank you for posting it. I think the challenge for you will be to glean a clear path from the responses you receive. I'm betting you will see generally two types of responses from folks in the eePro Higher Ed group: 1) straight to grad school, then on to academia; 2) a long and winding path with a variety of experiences across a variety of places/contexts. You might consider posting this in other eePro groups. I fall into #2. After my B.S. in marine biology, I was an outdoor env. educator for MA Audubon. Then received my M.S. in marine biology and was a marine biology researcher; then an federal environmental law enforcement agent; then a federal environmental policy expert; then received a Ph.D. in science education and became a professor of science and environmental education; and now I work as a federal environmental education evaluator. I've lived in MA, SC, VA, CA, NJ, and back to MA. I wish I had lived abroad but I've traveled extensively. As a professor, I always advised my students to live in different places. I understand the fear of the unknown, I experience that too, but I always found that once I took the leap, living in different cultural, economic, and natural environments was an incredibly important, eye-opening experience that helped me improve my abilities to advocate on behalf of the natural world and, in particular, the black, brown, and indigenous people who have disproportionally been harmed by environmental degradation. My students have told me they found it so important to live in different places. It is so important to know other places, other expectations, other worldviews since the challenges that lie ahead require understanding a myriad of people, expectations and worldviews. So, my experience tells me that your passion for the fostering environmental stewards, and hopefully environmental justice advocates, is what will help you lean in to a long EE career even if it means taking a leap of faith to broaden your perspectives. Best of luck! - Tim Zimmerman

What a great post, Sierra! As a moderator of the Young & Emerging Professionals eePRO group, I'd love to have you share your question there too!

I definitely fall under #2 of Timothy's breakdown—I'm of the interdisciplinary, dancing-on-the-margins of EE cohort. I did graphic design, studied urban planning, did policy internships and AmeriCorps, taught English in Japan, wwoof-ed in multiple states/countries, did a Hazon ag fellowship and worked for a school garden nonprofit, and now do comms for NAAEE. I have nothing but respect for folks who maintain a standard career direction, but I've really enjoyed trying different things out and all the learning that comes alongside it.

You may not get the exact job you want right out of college, but if it matches your priorities (staying local is an amazing thing too) and offers growth and action in an area that you're interested in, and you can predict even a little bit that the experience will support the "perfect" job you're striving for, I think there's no harm. But I'm still young and naive. :-)

Great question, Sierra!
I earned a BS and MS in Natural Resources and Environmental Science at the same university. I worked as a seasonal naturalist at 2 local state parks while I was in college. I had a naturalist/EE internship in grad school. Taught EE for one year at a residential EE camp 3 hrs from my hometown. The camp happened to be in a national park. At the time it was less competitive to be a student to get hired with NPS. So I enrolled in elementary education at a community college (this is after I graduated with my masters) and I was hired as a seasonal Interpretive Park Ranger for the summer. Summer job was ending, and I figured parks in the south would hire for the winter. Continued as a student Interpretive Park Ranger and got hired for 2 different 5 month seasons with NPS in Texas (while taking online classes). Unstable jobs without benefits got old, was hired in soil conservation in my home state, and worked in that position for 3 years. 5 years out of grad school I was finally hired as a Park Naturalist (my dream job) and it happens to be close to my hometown and family. I teach EE at my park job. Then, a connection invited me to teach an EE college course once per year at a nearby university (that was last year). I LOVE both of my jobs!

Definitely take advantage of the opportunities that you come upon. Even if it's not your "dream job". Keep working towards that goal. My boss says a person has to make some "sacrifices", as in, not taking the highest paying job available, but focus on your career path and build your resume with opportunities that you can take advantage of. I don't call it "making sacrifices", I just knew what I needed to do to get the job I wanted.

Best of luck to you!

This is a great post/thread! I totally understand your frustration Sierra. I graduated in 2017 with an undergraduate degree in Outdoor Recreation with a concentration in Environmental and Cultural Interpretation. I've worked in seasonal jobs for the past couple of years. The seasonality of the positions and lack of job security has been a drain for sure. I got married before I graduated, but my spouse has also been going through schooling, so attempting to settle down is not something we both are able to do just yet. I couldn't find work in the field of environmental education during the pandemic so I decided to go back to school to get my masters degree in Sustainability Leadership. I'll hopefully be finishing that degree up in the spring, but even after graduating I've contemplated doing environmental education as a independent educator and can see myself doing programming in an afterschool setting as a vendor. Even though it is not ideal, being able to do Environmental education as a an independent educator is a pathway not many people go down, but is certainly feasible. Best of luck on your journey, keep that passion!!