Alumni Stories

What does it take to be a park ranger? To find out, we caught up with SCA alumni who have gone on to hold government careers as park rangers. In Part I, we explored the college majors and internships that can help you land your dream job. In Part II, we’ll explore the range of careers available, networking, and perfecting just the right résumé. Fasten your seatbelts!

Ranger Alex Poole at Yellowstone National Park

At the age of 13, Nancy Rogers already knew she wanted to be a park ranger. And for upwards of four decades she’s followed that dream, first as an intern in the Student Conservation Association (SCA), then seasonally in the National Park Service, and finally as a permanent ranger in the United States Army Corps of Engineers (ACE).

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Ranger Hat by Cynthia Mitchell

We often picture park rangers in forested national parks, rescuing hikers or handing out trail maps. And while those are important roles, there are so many others that we rarely hear about. We had a chance to sit down with Jason Cangelosi, the Volunteer Program Manager for the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C., to learn more about the diverse world of U.S. park rangers.

Q: Thanks for chatting with us today, Jason. Can you tell us more about what your specific park ranger position entails?

National Park Service Rangers at the National Mall in DC
By Dani Tinker

The National Park Service’s aviation branch helps find stranded hikers, manage fires, and conduct wildlife and vegetation surveys. To learn more, we met with Aviation Branch Chief (and SCA ALUM!) Meg Gallagher.

National Park Service Helicopter

Sarah Spragg, park ranger for the Bureau of Land Management in Marina, California, sums up her job in five words: “Being available for the public.” In addition to her outreach duties, she also helps maintain the bureau’s facilities and provides special recreation permits for use on public lands. She is also the veteran of not one, not two, but three internships with the Student Conservation Association! We caught up with Sarah to get her insights into SCA internships and how they helped her land a coveted federal park ranger position.

Bureau of Land Management Employee
Andy Webster is an SCA alum who completed the 10-month AmeriCorps program in Hawley, Massachusetts in 2001. We caught up with Andy this month to discuss how his SCA experience helped him find his way to The Walden Project — a school he is starting in upstate New York that is based on Henry David Thoreau.
SCA:   Hi Andy - thanks for talking to us!
Andy: My pleasure!
SCA:   Why don’t we start by having you tell us about the SCA program you did.
Andy Webster is in the back row wearing a maroon shirt during his SCA/AmeriCorps program at Kenneth Dubuque State Forest
By Michael Cronin

“Future generations have a right to experience the beauty of wilderness… it’s important that we work to actively protect it.”

By Roland Richardson

On Wednesday, July 27th, SCA joined the National Parks Conservation Association for a joint networking happy hour.

By Jess Landis
As a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador at Padre Island National Seashore, I’ve gotten to meet some pretty cool people. Recently I sat down with Dr. Donna Shaver, Chief of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island. Given we’re both natives of New York, Cornell University grads and SCA alumni, we have much in common. Donna spoke about her professional beginnings, and how SCA changed her life – and the fate of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle – forever. 
By Joseph Thurston

Todd Nelson is the volunteer coordinator at Grand Canyon National Park. We asked him about his career, the National Park Service centennial, and the future of America’s Best Idea.

Why do you like working with volunteers?

What solidified it for me was working with college students on alternative [service] spring breaks. The students represent a variety of majors and I inform them that whatever they are studying, there is a position for them in the National Park Service, that we’re more than the different “-ologists.”

“When it comes to getting kids outdoors, no one has done more over the past sixty years than Liz Putnam,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, as he presented Liz with the Society’s Robert Marshall Award at a VIP-studded ceremony in Washington, DC.

In bestowing the award, named for one of The Wilderness Society’s founders, to SCA’s founder, the two organizations celebrated the notion of empowering young people to protect wild places.

SCA Founder Liz Putnam presented the Robert Marshall Award from the Wilderness Society
By Joseph Thurston

SCA alum Lauren Ray reveals how her SCA internship with the National Park Service helped her discover her public-lands-loving hip hop alter ego, the Rapping Ranger.

SCA alum Lauren Ray, aka the Rapping Ranger, has written and performed hip hop odes to each park that she's worked at, starting with Arches National Park where she served as an SCA Intern.

SCA alumna Sarah Calhoun (SCA 2002, ’03, ‘04)  – the founder of Red Ants Pants, a specialty line of women’s workwear – was recently featured in The Huffington Post and on Silicon Valley start-up expert Steve Blank’s popular podcast. In each, Sarah shares her story of beating the odds in the highly competitive apparel industry and the rewards of living in Big Sky Country.

Red Ant Pants founder and SCA Alum Sarah Calhoun

Look around a national park and you may see brown bears, blue herons, or Redwood trees.

But you’re less likely to see any people of color.  Statistically, 80% of park visitors are white as are park staffs, even as projections show whites will be in the minority within 30 years.

As the National Park Service counts down to its Centennial, I struggle with the lack of diversity in national parks, and why even our urban park systems are segregated. 

SCA Board member Ernest C. Wong (inset) and Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chicago

Parker Davis is a four-time alumnus of SCA’s Seattle community crew program. When an SCA staff member saw the announcement of Parker’s college graduation in June 2015, he sent a note Kit Lewis, Parker’s mother. Kit’s response was powerful and poignant, and as you’ll see she’s authorized SCA to share it.

SCA Alum Parker Davis seen in his Crew days at Mount Rainer in 2010 and at his college graduation this year.

“Something different” is what Jessica Aronson Cook was looking for when she first joined the Student Conservation Association (SCA) as a Canyonlands National Park intern. Little did she know she would find her future career and life-long friends.

Growing up in Houston, Stacey Kinney says she only saw ducks on office park ponds. Now, here she was at Coldwater River National Wildlife Refuge in Lambert, Mississippi, netting and banding them by the dozen. 

“Getting one of those little silver bands on is not easy,” Stacey declares. “The ducks  start flapping like mad and don’t even listen when you tell them to calm down!”

Mary Nghe and Stacey Kinney -- two CDIP Interns with the Student Conservation Association

Davon Goodwin had already made a range of contributions – and sacrifices – before he joined SCA. An Army veteran, he’d pulled extended tours of Iraq and Afghanistan; in the latter, an improvised explosive device fired shrapnel into his brain and shattered two vertebrae.  Davon says recovering from his wounds was nearly as daunting as recovering his focus.

“I’d lost my sense of purpose,” he recalls. “For a lot of soldiers, there’s no mission anymore. You get that sense of, ‘okay, what do I do now?’”

Davon Goodwin, SCA Alum at work with the Veterans Fire Corps
By Joseph Thurston

This past Monday we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday by participating in the “California King Tides” citizen science project. This event was hosted by Acterra, a Peninsula-based environmental non-profit in the SF Bay Area. We had a great turnout (close to seventy people!), at the East Palo Alto Bay Trail, participating in the event. 

By Joseph Thurston

Leah Duran is a three-time SCA alum who just finished a three-year stint on SCA’s Alumni Council. Soon after serving with SCA she began working for the National Park Service, first at Lassen Volcanic National Park, then at John Muir National Historic Site, and now at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park.

SCA Alum Leah Duran is currently a NPS employee at San Fransicso Maritime National Historic Park