Conservation Can Take Many Paths, Part III

A path often taken by SCA Alumni is to pursue a career outdoors with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or other agency. That is amazing and we value all the hard work our alums do to preserve, protect, and educate others about our nation’s public lands. We were curious about the varied career paths taken by our alumni. We asked the members of our Alumni Facebook group to share with us where their SCA experience had taken them.

In this three part blog series, we are sharing the stories of SCA alum who love conservation, but found themselves on a different career path. Read parts one and two.  

Part Three: Katarina Koch

Tell us more about your SCA experience. What did you do?

I did a residential program in New Hampshire as an environmental education and conservation intern. I lived in Bear Brook State Park for 10 months with close to 30 other corps members. We lived together like community-meetings on Mondays followed by group cleaning of all the communal spaces. Education season was during the winter and early spring. We worked in small teams doing service-learning projects with 4th grade students from Manchester, NH elementary schools. I was most familiar with the work required during ed season - teaching and interacting with kids, organizing weekly activities and planning projects.

Training for conservation was incredible. I learned basic camp skills, Leave No Trace wilderness ethics, survival skills, Wilderness First Responder, trail building skills, rock work skills, how to swamp for a sawyer. That was all new to me and I thought it was so much fun. During the conservation season, we split up into teams of five or six for 20-day hitches through the summer and fall. I built and repaired bog bridges on trails in the White Mountains, worked with National Park staff at national memorial sites, marked boundaries in local conservation easements. Most importantly, I learned how to care for my physical and emotional self while living in the woods for long periods.

The work was hard and the mosquitoes were bad, but the relationships that I developed with my corps members was all worth it. On breaks we traveled to Boston, went on brewery tours, saw the Red Sox play, went to music festivals, swam in ponds, built fires, danced in the kitchen, made tons of mistakes, laughed and cried, and created bonds that continue to this day. Just this past year, I officiated the wedding of SCA sweethearts, two of my best friends that I met in New Hampshire. They invited all the 2011 corps members to the wedding for a little reunion.

Katarina Koch's NH Corps group

Why did you join SCA?

I learned about SCA from my mom. She was reading my dad’s National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Alumni magazine, saw an ad for Student Conservation Association and encouraged me to check it out. The summer I graduated college, I surfed the SCA website applying to all kind of internship programs. By the beginning of August, I accepted a position with SCA Bear Brook 2011. I have always been a service oriented and mission driven person and knew I wanted to work for a nonprofit organization.

SCA encompassed many of my interests including my desire to travel, developing leadership skills, and engaging in systems of environmental and human health.

How did that experience affect you and your life?

It felt like it changed everything. Before Bear brook I felt like I was running away from home- seeking fulfillment externally- ignoring what I had and trying to see what else was out there. After Bear Brook, I wanted to explore my home and my local community. I wanted to heal strained relationships, and be a pioneer in my own backyard. I looked for conservation positions closer to home, volunteered with my old elementary school by leading a group of six graders in writing a community foundation grant to open their outdoor science lab, and started pursuing my graduate degree in nonprofit management. This eventually led me to an AmeriCorps position several years later and to the work I am currently doing.

SCA Alum Katarina Koch

What is your best SCA story/memory?

My first time climbing a mountain we collected wild blueberries at the top that our site contact baked into a pie for us.

I swam under the stars surrounded by mountains and huge pine trees.

Did it make you want to work in the field?

Yes, I did want to work in the field but I did not want to keep traveling and I needed to start paying off my education loans. I realized that my SCA experience was not about pursuing a career but developing my skills and ability to create my career.

Tell us about your professional life now – what are you up to?

I write grants and develop alternative revenue sources for a rural community health center in Southern Indiana. My daily routine is fairly “9 to 5” administrative work mostly on a computer but I have a lot of flexibility and autonomy in my position. I am encouraged to engage in community development projects that may not directly affect the bottom line of the health center, but they foster growth and build a culture of health for the whole community.

SCA Alum Katarina Koch and her NH Corps members

What do you love about it?

I love the people I work with. I have never met so many sincerely kind-hearted individuals who will do anything for their community.

I love that I make an impact and can increase the capacity of the community to pursue resources and increase sustainability of essential services.

I love that I can work to the height of my skills and challenge myself to grow.

Does it relate back to what you learned in your SCA service?

In many ways, yes. I may not be conserving trails and forests, but I am conserving access to affordable and comprehensive health care for impoverished populations in isolated communities. I do continue to hike our local trails with my dogs and utilize public resources that I believe are essential to community life and my own health and wellbeing.

Do you volunteer at all? If yes, doing what?

Yes, I am a board member for the Orange County Health Coalition and the Lost River Market and Deli Cooperative. I volunteer with many community arts and economic development initiatives as well.

Would you like to return to conservation or environmental work in the future, either professionally or as a volunteer?

Yes. I especially would like to be part of organizing and advocating for more conservation leadership opportunities in Indiana. I want to help build the culture of conservation, preservation, and engagement in public lands, resources, and services.