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FeetWetLake

At the lake I love

After years of telling myself I would “never teach,” I began teaching college students in 2008.  A community college hired me to teach English Composition to college freshman. At the same time, a local Adult Education Program, in concert with the college, asked me to create a new curriculum for a college transitions class called “Success in College.” Through teaching both classes for a few years, I mentored fire science technicians and education majors, marine biology students and nurses, as well as nontraditional students, who wanted to change careers. They gained confidence in their writing and their ability to communicate–two skills in high demand for any job, no matter the field. A trend I’ve noticed among recent college graduates is a lack of patience in approaching the job market. In our fast-paced social networking-driven society, it’s easy to get impatient.  Searching for a job is more like casting a line over the water.  You try different bait. You move around to different spots. You get your feet wet.  You relax. You have to be patient.

My cousin, Owen, a Pisces like me, loves to fish at Little Sebago Lake, where we all grew up swimming.  About six months ago, I encouraged my cousin, a civil engineering student at University of Maine, to create a LinkedIn profile for himself. At first, he wasn’t sure if that sounded like something he needed to do, but he mentioned a friend of his who had gotten a job, or learned of a job, through LinkedIn. My cousin created a profile on LinkedIn, added his work experience (a local hardware store) and his skills, including transportation, geotechnical engineering, groundwater modeling, surface water hydrology and hydrology, flood control and civil engineering. I’m super proud of my cousin, Owen, for receiving an offer for a job at a widely known engineering firm, and for all of his accomplishments. While in college, he joined the American Society of Civil Engineering.  I’m sure that helped broaden his network, too. He attains his Bachelor’s of Science in Civil Engineering this spring.

When I graduated from College of the Atlantic with my Bachelor’s in Human Ecology in 2001, I researched organizations where I wanted to work, then approached them. I didn’t take a wait-and-see approach. I took a pro-active approach.  My first post-college job was a year-long position as a Lands Protection and Administrative Assistant at Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a state-wide land trust. Part internship, part professional position, the job allowed me to get my feet wet in conservation. Several of the conservation and lands protection directors at MCHT mentored me; one served on my graduate thesis committee, while I researched land trust collaboration as part of my master’s degree work in conservation and sustainable business at College of the Atlantic. My job at MCHT had not been advertised–it wasn’t a position they were looking to fill. I expressed interest during an informational interview and they created a position for me. The position blossomed into a full-time professional responsibility (May 2001-July/August 2002).

Squaretop Mtn WY

Squaretop Mtn., Green River Valley, WY

In July 2002, I traveled west to Wyoming, to meet my cousins. I also interviewed ranchers and land trust professionals about western approaches to land conservation. It opened my eyes. Wide. That trip–including an experience riding two rodeo horses at a ropin’ event in Big Piney, WY, broadened my horizons. It also helped me conquer fears of failing.  Or, at least, it quelled my fears of falling off a horse that dives and darts, charging toward the corriente steer at the end of an arena.

Energy, enthusiasm and a willingness to step into a role with a high learning curve are all “must-have” qualities in a green–or “entry level”–college graduate today. The next two jobs I held while a graduate student, in similarly unconventional ways, were not positions that my employers had advertised. One opportunity led to a two-year contract as a park ranger and multi-faceted position at Acadia National Park, where the position was unique to me. No one had held the position prior to me; no one replaced me, since it was a special project. I loved working at Acadia NP and gained valuable experience in conservation, communications & marketing, management and graphic design. And I earned an award for it, a nice little feather in my cap. The program I started in 2003 is ongoing.  That’s my idea of success.

Today’s college graduates seem unsure of the job market.  I belong to several listservs, such as Ecolog-L, and I’ve noticed the countless emails that college graduates have submitted to listservs in the hope that someone will bite. They want a job. They want advice. They have an opportunity to approach the job market in new and different ways than that of previous generations. For one thing, LinkedIn did not exist when I graduated from college. I had to use old fashioned networking–knocking on doors, asking for informational interviews or meetings. There is nothing wrong with asking for an informational interview at a company/firm/organization, where a college graduate would like to work. Ask someone who works in your dream profession–“what projects are you working on now?” Find out if those projects are collaborative in nature–do they involve partner organizations? Do any of those partners have volunteer or internship opportunities? Is there a way you can volunteer on a short-term project to get experience?

Northeast Creek pic by French Hill Pond

Northeast Creek Watershed. French Hill Pond photo

Look locally.  Serving on a local planning board or conservation commission may help to gain a foothold in a network that leads to an environmental job in a field that excites you. Even local government boards, such as conservation commissions, sometimes tap into regional, state-wide or national networks. When I was in graduate school, I volunteered on a groundwater study conducted by USGS hydrologists. My GIS class offered me a way to contribute mapping work to the larger study, commissioned by the Town of Bar Harbor. Sure, it wasn’t paid.  And it took me a year to create the maps analyzing wetlands and development patterns in the Northeast Creek watershed. And I embarrassed myself by storing two maps in the trunk of my ’86 Volvo, which filled up with freezing rain during a nor’easter–effectively turning my trunk into an ice block with the maps inside. When the ice melted, the maps disintegrated. And I had to redo them. A lesson learned!

Many years later, I wrote articles about wetland mapping as part of a project for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. I wasn’t new to wetland mapping since I’d had the experience of digitizing maps, plotting out wetlands and surveying land conservation areas in a watershed for various internships and volunteer projects after college. For those recent college graduates looking for work, I encourage them to CREATE positions for themselves, when they haven’t found a more traditional position immediately. It takes time. In the meantime, have fun exploring projects at the local, state-wide and national level. You don’t have to be a human ecologist to be multi-disciplinary. (My cousin, a civil engineering student, is multi-disciplinary in his approach. As a water-loving Pisces, it’s no surprise he was drawn to hydrology.)

Be open to unusual and unforeseen opportunities.  Step into a role that you (and a future employer) create just for you and your multi-disciplinary skills, talents and abilities. Offer a fresh perspective on a project that no one else wants to do and find that you can make a name for yourself, even while entering the job market. Create a sense of serendipity.

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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