A path to the parks

by Veronica Verdin

Veronica Verdin is a 21-year-old junior at Maine's Bowdoin College, majoring in anthropology and minoring in history. Of Mexican and Japanese-American heritage, she grew up in El Sereno, in Southern California. She hopes to work for the National Park Service as an archaeologist or interpretive ranger and has already participated in two of the agency's internship programs. Last year, she was a cultural resources intern at Zion, and she recently attended NPS Academy orientation at Grand Teton. Run by the Student Conservation Association, the multi-phase Academy program prepares diverse students for careers in the agency. Here is Verdin's description of her experience, as told to Jodi Peterson:

The only vacations we ever took while I was growing up were road trips. We went through Arches, Bryce – amazing red-rock Southwest places. My dad would read about these parks, or Mom would see them in magazines, and they'd say, "One day we're going to go there!" We would drive all night and hit as many places as possible. Both of my parents had a very clear view of what they wanted to give to their kids. They took us to all these parks so we could get a taste and come back if we wanted to as adults.

I once heard a park employee say the Park Service really does want to have the population working in and visiting parks reflect the American population. But the problem is complicated. There are a lot of much deeper, really complex historical elements, and aspects of wealth and privilege. Plus the fact that a lot of these parks are out in the middle of nowhere, near towns that might not have diverse populations to begin with.

It's really commendable that the Park Service has started to implement programs like the NPS Academy. It's a slow generational build. These programs are starting to create lines of access to parks that are farther out and harder to get to, spreading the word through personal interaction. You get one person like me who works at a park, then people see me and tell their friends, or their kids think, "Hey, maybe I could be a park ranger, too."

If you bring 30 college students to, say, the NPS Academy in the Tetons, the amount of people you can reach grows exponentially. I just came back from my week there (in March), and the collective energy was pretty magical. We were all different racially, but the real diversity that was surprising to me was the experience each person had had with the Park Service. Some had never even gone to a national park before, because they were from the city or a reservation. Some just wanted to live, breathe, and eat the Park Service every minute.

At the Academy, we did a bunch of things to help us with the job application process for the Park Service – a résumé workshop, tips for interviewing, we got to hang out with people on different career paths. We'll all do some kind of park internship over the summer, and promote the program to other students, and get help from mentors. It was really exciting to think that, in 10 years, we might all be working at parks. It's still sort of daunting to apply, though. It's complicated, and veterans get preference for jobs. I feel like I could call up or email anyone I met during the week, student or park employee, and they would help me, which is really nice. But it's hard to know what are the actual odds of getting a permanent job in a park. I tell myself that I'm still young, and that I need to get hired seasonally first.

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