An SCA Alum reflects on taking a risk, building a strong network and finally landing his dream job.
Intro/Bio: Rob has served three consecutive terms with SCA at Gateway National Recreation Area in NYC. After graduating with a business degree, he’d landed a comfortable job in waste management which led to a promotion, however he still felt something was missing. Here he reflects on taking the leap of faith, building a strong network, and finally landing his dream job.
Growing up visiting my family cabin in the Catskills, I learned at a young age to get connected to nature. My family moved a lot back then, but the cabin was permanent. The endless days exploring among the pines, searching streams for crayfish, and looking out over the valley from what felt like the “top of the world”—those were permanent, too. Experiencing the outdoors has been a vital part of who I am ever since.
Twenty years later, like so many other young people, I graduated college and started working full-time at a job where I already had a foot in the door. After little more than a year, I had learned a ton, grown professionally, and had even just locked down a promotion. Still, at the end of the day, I felt like my skills would be better utilized elsewhere; it became clear that I needed to move toward a career more fulfilling to that boy in the Catskills.
Leaving my job—where I was paid well and had a built-in future—presented a great challenge and a daunting risk. I took a leap of faith and made it to the other side thanks to SCA, who had supported me every step of the way. Looking back on my journey here is what I would tell you:
1. Don’t rule yourself out because you feel you have no related experience. SCA’s network welcomes everyone, regardless of work experience or educational background—no, you don’t need to have an environmental science degree. I set out to get involved from the bottom up by volunteering at SCA’s ConSERVE NYC: Find Your Park Day of Service at Gateway National Recreation Area. A first-time volunteer with no SCA friends and no experience, I was a little nervous…OK, a lot nervous. By the end of the day I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was it inspiring to help out in a National Park, but I also felt welcomed by the SCA team leading the event—individuals with whom I still work today.
It wasn’t much later when SCA posted an article titled “How to Become a Professional Conservationist in Less than a Year.” I followed the piece quite literally, as SCA provided a clear blueprint to landing a dream job. That blueprint helped me get my first internship with SCA. With anxiety swirling in my head, I wondered if I had made a big mistake. Those fears were put to rest on day one thanks to SCA and the NPS orientation week for summer interns. I quickly realized I was surrounded by young people from all kinds of backgrounds in the exact same boat. We created lasting friendships through our shared goal of working in conservation.
2. If you put yourself out there, SCA will mirror that effort with support. Once I got settled into my Management Analyst internship at Gateway National Recreation Area, the weeks rolled by in a blink. I learned a ton about how National Parks operate internally and had a blast doing it, but was reminded every day of my fast–approaching end date. I had gotten serious about my job search, organizing running lists, documents, and folders for all the companies and openings to which I hoped to apply. Without even a nibble back yet, I nervously sought help from one of the NPS advisors I met at orientation who worked down the hall. She was more than willing. By the next day, she had introduced me to my new boss and helped me find a new role as Gateway’s newest Business Management intern. SCA once again came through and offered to fund me for another term.
I was so, so relieved—I was no longer a stone’s throw away from unemployment. Now that I was an SCA alumni, I sought to get more involved and make new connections within the broad network. I emailed SCA’s event manager and asked if I could help out as a Group Leader at the upcoming ConSERVE NYC: 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance on Governors Island. As per usual for SCA, she was more than happy to have me on board. The event went off without a hitch; not only did I fall in love with Governors Island’s historic structures and expansive views, but I also had the chance to meet inspiring fellow alumni, one of whom even worked at a company I was keen to apply to. I took a chance and introduced myself, explaining how interested I was in the position. Before I could even ask, she offered to help make a connection. I had finally landed my first interview, all thanks to my SCA network.
I continued getting involved in any way I could, and at the next volunteer event, I was introduced to SCA’s Director of Alumni Engagement, Trisha Malizia. I explained how I had taken a leap of faith and been working hard with SCA, but was still struggling to land a job. She was energetic and eager to help me find my way however she could. We set up a call to discuss my background and interests and she told me to join the fast growing SCA alumni LinkedIn group. Through it she would create connections to alumni whose organizations had openings I was considering.
Soon after, during a routine scan for job openings across dozens of company websites, I was thrilled to see an Operations Coordinator opening at the Trust for Governors Island. I let Trisha know and started working on my application right away. Back at the ConSERVE NYC event, SCA had worked with the Trust, and I was able to meet an employee who also was an SCA alumnus. On top of that, the NPS advisor that I met back during orientation week also had connections within the Trust. Once again, thanks to SCA, their events, and their network, I was able to establish a meaningful connection to a major opportunity. I applied immediately.
3. When you feel discouraged—like you want to give up—don’t. It’s tough to get an interview. It’s even tougher to go through two or more rounds of interviews, only to hear you’re not the right fit for the position. The waiting game can be truly exhausting, especially with NYC rent and bills haunting you at the end of every month. Budgeting is tight and your funds are even tighter. But it’s worth it.
It was only when it had begun to feel like I’d be an intern forever that I landed my first interview on the path toward a new career. After days of preparation and pages of notes, I made it to the third round. So began three weeks of compulsively checking my email for any news back. When the email finally came, they’d decided not to move me along in the process. I was totally crushed and beyond discouraged, but I quickly realized that I had nowhere to go but up; the first rejection hurts the most. I kept pushing, attending SCA events, making new connections, and staying organized with new job openings.
Almost an entire month passed before I got any movement. Each day came with a roller coaster of emotions, but the weeks flew by. The holidays, the new year, and, worse, the looming end date for my position at Gateway were all right around the corner.
Finally, I got a call: a job offer for one of the backup openings to which I had applied. With no word back yet from Governors Island, I had 48 hours to decide on the offer. I knew I had to act quickly if I wanted any shot at getting my first choice. I quickly sought advice from my supervisor, Trisha, and NPS Academy Advisor on how to navigate seeking an update on the hiring process—without ruining my chances. After finally sending a carefully crafted email, I heard back shortly (much to my relief) that they intended to make a decision the following day. I would know my path in just a few hours. I was psyched – and terrified.
It was about noontime the next day that I was offered the job. I did it. My long journey of tireless work with the support of SCA had finally ended in success. I’m looking forward to developing my career on Governors Island and can’t thank SCA enough for the support I received at every level— Program Advisors, Alumni Engagement Director, Events Manager and constant opportunities to get (and stay) involved.
Finding and chasing your dream job despite fears and logistics is tough. Everybody always says it’s about who you know, which proved to be true with my interviews and applications. But if you’re involved with SCA, you already know the right people. Make yourself visible and available; attend events and meetings whenever possible. Every time I stepped out to take a leap of faith, SCA and their vast network caught me and propelled me onward. If you’re a hopeful conservationist starting out with SCA, you’re in the right place.