Pictured are UNC students talking with a National Park Service ranger while out in
Working a nine-to-five job doesn’t always afford one the most scenic views.
Whether it’s the walls of a cubicle or a window peering out into an office parking
lot, the vistas of professional life generally aren’t anything to write home about.
Well, for most people, that is.
From Aug. 13-17, Karen Barton, professor of Geography, GIS and Sustainability in the
University of Northern Colorado’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, took 14 UNC students up to Estes Park for a hands-on workshop titled “Careers in
National Parks and Protected Areas.”
Over the course of those five days, students worked, hung out with and learned practical
and professional skills from park workers, research center staff, wilderness volunteers
and more – people whose day-to-day views consist of sloping mountains and tree-dappled
But beyond simply basking in the scenic vistas of Colorado’s natural splendor, Barton
said the goal of the workshop was to provide the attending students with an in-depth
knowledge of the kinds of careers one can pursue in the country’s parks and protected
areas, as well as giving them some of the skills needed to dip their toes into those
“The biggest impact was meeting park staff and volunteers and learning about their
work,” Barton said. “They were incredibly gracious to our students and motivated many
of them to think about careers with the parks.”
The workshop was geared toward giving students a wide variety of experiences within
the park. Offerings included time spent doing trail maintenance with Poudre Wilderness
volunteers Debbie Lewis and Brooks Pardew, an informational session on how to write
a professional/government resume hosted by Scott Esser, director of the Continental
Divide Research Learning Center, to simply taking a few hikes through the mountains
with the National Park Service trail crew. Through these experiences, those who attended
were given the full scope of what it might be like to work in a park.
Ethan Weatherwax, a junior History and Secondary Education major, said he initially
signed up for the workshop somewhat on a whim, but that the information provided throughout
the event was more pertinent to him than he expected.
“I think I was one of, like, two people there that wasn't a GIS major,” Weatherwax
said. “But I think that having those different perspectives, you know, looking at
something from a GIS perspective and a history perspective and seeing the same thing
in two completely different ways was really eye-opening.”
In particular, he noted how useful the resume discussion would likely be for him going
“Resumes are so important for basically any job, and especially for federal resumes,
I had no idea what went into one,” he said. “I’d heard that if you went over one page,
you’re doing it wrong. [Scott’s] was 36 [pages].”
Celine Torres, a senior Anthropology major with a Geography minor, spent the summer
working in Rocky Mountain National Park as part of the trail maintenance revegetation
crew. She participated in the workshop by working with the student attendees and educating
them on the ins and outs of park vegetation control.
“It’s basically just like advanced gardening,” Torres said. “Although it’s still really
cool, of course.”
According to Torres, the main value of the workshop was how it broke down some of
the stigmas surrounding careers in the national parks and opened students' eyes to
a broader range of possibilities.
“Over the summer, I wasn't working with just geographers and anthropologists and scientists,”
Torres said. “Matter of fact, half my crew was actually, like, literature or education
majors. Things that might seem like unrelated fields. But to work in the parks, you
don’t have to come from a scientific background. There are all kinds of different
opportunities people just don’t know about.”
Torres went on to highlight how the National Park Service employs all sorts of people,
including firefighters, educators, medical professionals, businesspeople, marketers
and more – a statement Weatherwax concurred with.
“I learned that almost any kind of job you can have outside of the park, you can have
inside the park too.”
For Barton, the broadening of students’ horizons and helping them to have experiences
they wouldn’t otherwise be able to have in a classroom is what these kinds of field
excursions are all about.
“In my opinion, all field opportunities are valuable and worthwhile ones, since they
allow students to stretch their imaginations and engage in hands-on, visceral experiences,”
As in-the-field outings like these start to become possible again as we move further
from the events of 2020, Barton said she hopes to see, and facilitate, as many as
“I personally never had any experiences like this as an undergraduate student. Having
a chance to meet professionals working in your dream field is something very unique
— written by Duard Headley
Field experiences like the Careers in the Park workshop are made possible in part
to contributions from individual donors. Any contributions made to these programs
go directly toward helping more students be able to participate in these one-of-a-kind