Nancy Fernandez currently serves as a Park Ranger for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service serving in the San Diego Refuges. She did four SCA services including the NPS Academy (2015), Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (2016) and Lewis & Clark National Historical Park (2016). She was also chosen to be a mentor at the NPS Academy in 2016 and served on the Alumni Council from 2018-2020.
Your title is Park Ranger. Cool! However, most folks think that being a park ranger is someone working outside at a park, but your role is more with social media. Is that common for a park ranger? What do you love about it? Is this where you see yourself or do you have other professional goals at USFWS or another federal agency?
Not too many park rangers can say that they spend their day working on social media but those rangers have other cool jobs to do and it’s my job to get them and their work noticed. What I love about working on social media messaging is having creative flexibility to go outdoors and spend as much time as I need to photograph anything that will help me share a relevant conservation message. I am also lucky enough to be able to tag along with other refuge staff and researchers from other field offices or agencies to learn about their work. I am a hands-on learner so lived experience helps me share a better, well rounded story with our online audience about the type of work that is being done in their national wildlife refuge and community.
I really love my job and currently can’t see myself elsewhere. For now, I aspire to get better at captivating my audience through fun and informative messaging.
You have done a number of SCA services. What was your favorite? Which had the biggest impact on you?
Although I am extremely grateful for all my internship experiences, my first SCA service position at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in Astoria, Oregon was the internship that cemented my love and appreciation for conserving our public lands. My experience there was great in large part due to the park staff who were like my family when I was far away from my own friends and family. Everyone did an excellent job in helping me feel included in the daily running of the park like visitor engagement, trail work, biological surveys, and community outreach. During my time at the park, I felt that I was doing meaningful work and I slowly learned what it meant to be a conservation steward.
Tell us more about the NPS Academy program? Do you still stay in touch with your cohort? How do you support each other?
The National Park Service Academy program was a life changing moment that came at just the right time for me. I was close to graduating college and I did not have a solid plan in place as to what type of career I wanted to work towards. Thanks to the NPS Academy, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of possibilities. Not only did I learn about the different jobs within a National Park but also the park rangers that I met made me truly believe that I could one day be in a similar position. I will never forget the moment a park ranger said how much they loved their job; it wasn’t the words they said but the manner in which they said them that made an impression on. The genuine care and attention from everyone that led the NPS Academy made me want to immerse myself more in the program.
I continue to stay in touch with some members of my cohort through social media and “snail mail”. Throughout the years, we have offered each other support when dealing with new job prospects and personal life matters. They are the ones who helped inspire me to continue doing the best I can in life.
You had the opportunity to attend the Al Gore Climate Reality Leadership Corps training a few years back. What were your greatest takeaways from that opportunity? In what ways have you utilized what you learned? How did it feel being with all of those like-minded people?
What a fantastic training! I had never been surrounded by so many like-minded people from all walks of life that were ready to take action on such a serious matter like climate change. One of my biggest takeaways was the power of collective action. It is essential that all of us use our variety of abilities and privilege to urgently tackle this crisis that is especially affecting people of color and those facing socioeconomic inequalities.
From this, and other trainings, I have learned that there are many ways I can make a positive impact in the fight against the climate change crisis. One of those ways is to continue to support local small businesses, share my work platform with local conservation organizations to help spread their message with a different audience, and to teach the next generation of conservation leaders.
Being surrounded by so many conservation leaders ready to address such a serious issue made me feel powerful, like I could do something greater myself. I was mostly inspired by the youth who were full of energy and passion. Since then I have committed myself to paying more attention to youth led movements and to support whenever possible. They are a force to be reckoned with!
If you could give a young Latina/o person who wants to get involved in serving the planet or the conservation field a piece of advice, what would that be?
The Latino and Hispanic community has deep roots in conservation even if it is not immediately evident to them due to the white, stereotypical ways that conservation is normally portrayed. Our heritage as natural caretakers of the environment stems from our connection to the land and from economic necessity. In that sense, they are already involved in helping the planet. Those that want to be more actively involved in a conservation field could get their start by volunteering. Volunteering is one way that they can get hands-on experience and the opportunity to network so one day their hard work will pay off and they could potentially get a job in a conservation field of their liking. Although it is not possible for everyone to go to college, I would recommend going that route as a degree really does open the door to many opportunities. Meaningful impact, however, can be done with or without a degree; either choice requires hard work and determination.
Tell us about what conservation means to you and your first experiences with it.
Recently one of our alumni fellows did a video about what conservation means to her. As someone who hails from an urban center, it is very different than those who are from places where nature abounds.
Nature can be found wherever we look but sometimes we have to look a little bit harder when there are other competing stimuli in a densely populated city. Many people might not know that in the backyard of over 3 million people, San Diego County is one of the most biologically rich counties in the continental United States. This is in part because the varied topography offers habitat to many endemic and native species. The beautiful weather also means many people want to live here which causes habitat loss and many species to become threatened or endangered. Keeping that in mind, to me conservation means being mindful of my actions and what that might mean to the environment. Not only do I have to think about the wellbeing of plants, animals, and their habitats, I also have to make sure I don’t disrespect the ancestral homeland of the Kumeyaay Nation who since time immemorial have been at the forefront of conservation and sustainability.
Out of economic necessity, I was raised with behaviors that now would fall under the conservation “umbrella”. From a very young age, my parents exposed me to the outdoors through regular walks around the neighborhood. We always made sure to carry a grocery bag with us in case we saw aluminum cans or plastic bottles that we could later take to the recycling center and sell for cash. At the recycling center, I learned about the different materials that could be recycled. My favorite part was going to the grocery store later and getting a treat for my efforts. During those walks my parents also pointed out plants and animals and taught me their names in Spanish and their medicinal uses. By knowing these species more intimately, I grew up appreciating and caring for these plants and animals from a very young age. That is the same love for the land that I am trying to instill to the next generation of land stewards.
As SCA reaches this 100,000 alumni milestone, what do you think is the most important outcome you all could come together to accomplish would be? Like if you had one ask to make of that 100K network of folks, what would it be?
My ask to those 100K alumni would be to think back to their time with the SCA. Most folks will tell you that they had a positive experience or a life defining moment that helped steer them towards their life’s purpose whether that was in conservation or not. I would then ask them to share that experience with others. It might not be as relevant now in their daily life, but sharing that experience can motivate others, especially young people, to seek out experiences and opportunities that they have yet to consider.
When you look at the caliber of the SCA100K Ambassadors and their achievements, what does that say to you about this group, SCA alums in general, and SCA’s impact on aspiring young leaders?
Shout out to everyone that has made the SCA what it is today. The SCA has changed many lives and inspired many more to be better and kinder towards our natural environment. Now more than ever we need dedicated conservation leaders and the SCA has played a big role in effectively involving and inspiring people from all backgrounds to be better stewards of the land.
What are some lessons learned from your SCA experiences that you still rely on today?
When I first started with the SCA I was straight out of college and as “green” as one can be. Despite my lack of life experience being on my own, the SCA was a source of great support every step of the way. No matter where in the country I went to serve, I felt confident enough to try to tackle any of life’s challenges on and off the trail. I found this courage because the SCA surrounded me with a good support system. The permission to have fun, enjoy the moment, and know it was okay to fail is something that has helped me grow as an individual and something I continue to carry with me in my daily life.
Visit the SCA100k page for more information on our ten ambassadors.