People of the National Parks

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

The STEP Project that I conducted was titled “People in the National Parks,” and was intended to help me to better understand how people came to become rangers and administrators within the National Park System.  This involved a cross country tour of eight of the nations National Parks, while meeting and conducting small interviews with some of the park’s employees and rangers and share their short stories on social media.

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

While I was planning this trip one of my main goals was to see if there was a particular path people took to becoming an employee at one of the various national parks I traveled to.  I found that the answers varied, but all stemmed from one common love for the national parks and conservation as a whole.  The first person I had the pleasure of speaking with was a young woman named Kaitlyn (pictured below) who was working at Arches National Park in Utah. She was initially from Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburg, as asked about my Ohio State sweatshirt after saying her boyfriend went to Ohio University.   She came out on a trip and fell in love with the scenery, and ended up going home, packing up, and moving to Moab, UT three weeks later.  Many of the other stories were similar and were documented in posts shared through the Instagram page “nationalparkspeople.” ( )  I found that their stories showed me that there really isn’t one path to becoming an employee at one of the parks. From college students to former English teachers, the people I had the chance to meet and speak with really helped me to understand the impact and draw the parks have on the citizens of the United States.

I found that another change came through increased confidence in travelling alone, especially since some of the areas I traveled to were so remote they didn’t have cell coverage.  I found that throughout the duration of my trip, my ability to problem solve and figure out how to get what I needed became more efficient, and I was able to learn to find my way through these areas without the aid of a cell phone.  I found that some of the people I met outside of the parks had very interesting stories as well, and finding out about their stories made me want to travel and learn how other people were able to get to where they are today.

What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

From day one this trip was an incredible learning experience.  As stated previously, one of the most impactful and relatable stories was at my first stop in Arches.  Kaitlyn seemed to really have a similar love for the National Park system as I did, and while it didn’t draw me to drop everything I planned on doing and go work for the NPS, it did help me realize that you don’t need much to live an extremely happy and fulfilling life.  She said she had majored in physics, so she turned down what could have turned out to be a lucrative career in favor for one that made her happy.

Another amazing story was from a park ranger named Adam (pictured below) who I met in Sequoia National Park in California.  Adam was actually from Ohio too (I found it incredible how many Midwesterners I met throughout my journey)!  A few years back, Adam was teaching English in Spain but decided that the flying back and forth was too much to handle and missed this side of the world too much.  He quit his job, but not before he saved up enough money to be able to live for a while until he figured out what he wanted to do.  He always had a love for the outdoors, and decided to hitchhike across Canada, and visit all their National Parks.  While in a park called “Waterton Lakes” he ventured south back to the US to Glacier National Park, where he ended up becoming a ranger until moving to Sequoia more recently.  His story showed my how flexibility can end up changing your entire career and life path, and that taking some time before jumping into the next phase of life can make that drastic of a difference.

Another story that didn’t come out of the parks, was from an older gentleman I met at one of the campsites I chose near Glacier in Montana.  I was just sitting by the river next to my campsite when a dog ran up to me!  His owner, Bill, was a former pilot (my new career path) who was able to retire by 55 by saving and investing all his earnings and buying a cheap plot of land in the middle of nowhere Montana.  His advice resounded with me, and paralleled one of my favorite quotes from Bill Nye, “Everyone you meet will know something you don’t.”  His advice was, wherever you are and wherever you go, make sure to make a connection with at least one person, because you never know where that connection might lead.  Bill apparently met his wife this way, and after hearing what I was doing, wanted to pass that on to me.  I found his advice interesting, because it was pretty much what I was accomplishing without knowing it, making connections throughout the US, and learning what I don’t know from people I just met.

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

When I began planning this trip, my planned career path was to become a real estate agent, and I thought that the biggest takeaway from the experience was that I would learn to talk and communicate better with people.  My career path changed to becoming a pilot, but I still want to invest in real estate and start a property management company.  I think that while I will not be using the communication and conversational skills I learned to sell property, I will be able to use them to speak to passengers, and hopefully be able to learn about some of their adventures, wherever they may be going or coming from in the world.