Career Day: Education and Outreach Blog
May 18, 2021
If you missed the Education and Outreach session of our Conservation Career Day, read on! Our very own Jennifer Fee, Manager of K-12 Education, facilitated the panel. She began by describing how she pursued a career in environmental education since it combines her love of teaching and the outdoors with a mission that is important to her: to inspire the next generation of nature-lovers. A panel of five talented educators shared inspiring stories about what sparked their interest, career paths, and current jobs. They also gave some phenomenal advice for those considering careers in science education and outreach, which also applies to anyone in pursuit of their dream job.
The first panelist, Dr. Lilly Briggs is the Founder and Director of Finca Cántaros Environmental Association, where she helps preserve and rehabilitate land. Lilly has been a birder since the age of nine and credits her parents for supporting her explorations. Lilly’s path is inspirational because it shows there are many career paths for people interested in science education and outreach. Despite her love for nature, Lilly studied social sciences during her undergraduate experience. However, soon after, she rediscovered her love for nature and got a master’s degree in environmental studies and then a Ph.D. in environmental education at Cornell University. During her Ph.D. program, Lilly began working with us as an Outreach Coordinator for BirdSleuth International. Lilly now lives in Costa Rica, facilitating community-based conservation and education events at the Finca. Lilly encourages people interested in a career in education and outreach to seek out mentors, and be unafraid of being different!
The next panelist, Jamaka Fisher, creator of Jamaka’s Jungle, is determined to provide a fun and exciting place where everyone can learn about animals and the environment. Jamaka had many pets growing up, giving her a love of animals at an early age. She studied animal science at Tuskegee University and environmental education and zoology at New York University. She began her career working in animal shelters; she started by cleaning and took on additional and more exciting responsibilities. A career highlight was interning at Disney’s Animal Kingdom! Jamaka launched Jamaka’s Jungle, her online animal show and Wildlife Education Outreach Program, by going to classrooms with her rescued Corn Snake, Jamal. She now has six rescued animals who “assist” with her outreach. As in her first jobs, she still does a lot of cleaning, feeding, and basic animal care… but now she also trains others, researches and analyzes animal behavior, and teaches. Jamaka recommends taking advantage of every opportunity to get hands-on experience: no job is too small! She advises to always work hard at any job because the people you work with can vouch for you based on your hard work, dedication, and good attitude.
Panelist Ben Lam is working his dream job as an Education Program Coordinator at the International Crane Foundation, traveling the world to help save the world’s 15 crane species. At a young age, he was always intrigued by the wildlife right in his backyard. However, he went to college unsure about his career path until a school trip changed his life! His love for birds developed after a bird banding field trip, holding birds and attaching bands to their legs to help scientists track them. Ben decided to study wildlife and fish biology at Clemson University and did many internships to gain experience. Now, Ben combines two of his passions, working alongside amazing people and birds. Having found his dream job, Ben advises those trying to find their career to get experience, make connections, and be flexible.
Panelist Julie Watson, Statewide Wildlife Education Coordinator and Volunteer Coordinator for Nevada, has the “nature gene.” Outdoor play and raising chickens and turkeys were a memorable part of her childhood experience, and she always loved being outside. However, loving nature and working for nature are not the same thing. Julie realized she wanted to work for nature after interning with Backcountry Ranger and received a bachelor’s degree in environmental conservation from Northern Michigan University before pursuing many internships. Before moving to Nevada, Julie was an Education Director for the St. Louis Audubon society, promoting and supporting the conservation of birds and their habitats. Now, she works closely with wildlife to educate, empower, and spark change. She recommends networking to find mentors and opportunities for professional development, growing and diversifying your skills to make yourself more marketable, and knowing your worth!
The final panelist, Alaina Young, is an Education and Outreach Coordinator at Thousand Islands Land Trust, where she helps to conserve land and inspire others to connect to land too. Like the other panelists, Alaina found her spark when she was young. She loved fishing on the Jersey Shore, which led her to want to research fish. While obtaining her bachelor’s in biology at Lafayette College, she interned at a zoo and later worked at a marine lab studying dolphins. In her current role, she loves helping students understand their impact on the environment through activities like beach cleanups and using the trash to make art. Alaina suggests following your spark, taking advantage of every opportunity, and finding adventure!
Interested in a career in conservation education and outreach? Our panelists emphasized the importance of experience, adaptability, and teamwork! It is never too early for career development. They recommended volunteering for local organizations, joining clubs, and applying to internships. And if you cannot find an opportunity in conservation that you like, the great thing is you can always make your own opportunities! Panelists suggest learning how to create science education content in small ways, like starting your own Youtube channel or TikTok account. Because educators wear so many hats, many transferable skills make someone ready for and successful in their career. Check out the following career/job resources: NAAEE job board, The Student Conservation Association, and Texas A&M job board, and student organizations like 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Boys and Girls Club. Remember: no opportunity is too small, and it is never too early for experience!