Welcome to Our New Communications Director

Interview with Colleen Robinson

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in natural resources? If it was an individual, how did he or she inspire you?

My family fostered my genuine curiosity about the natural world from a young age. I grew up down the block from a large, rarely-used public park along the lake. My father’s ideal vacations were hiking and fishing in Wisconsin’s north woods. Mom’s gardening kept the yard full of color and life to explore. They both valued time to look, listen, taste, feel, smell and express. To this day, time in natural settings is what fascinates me most and feeds my sense of wonder. In fact, it is where I find my most authentic self. When life gets busy or the details of the world a bit unbelievable, it is in nature where I am grounded, regain my hope and reconnect with my strengths. This intimate connection with outdoor, natural spaces led to an intuitive desire to work in natural resources in some way and give back. I feel most fulfilled when working to help people find and acknowledge their own connections to their environment. Environmental education and interpretation was an easy fit for me. I learned about natural resources from many angles, rather than specializing in one area. I was taught to understand interactions with the natural world from many perspectives, rather than believing one way to interact with nature is the right way. This approach has helped me grasp the complex interrelatedness of natural systems, our place within them, and the fact that we will always know so little of what there is to know.

 

What kinds of projects will you be working on at the Forest Stewards Guild?

I am pleased to be working on all things communications for the Guild. This falls right in line with my desire to help people recognize and acknowledge their connections to their environment. Through strategic planning of the website and social media platforms, writing and editing of print publications, and thinking through how all of it works together from research reports to event promotions and fun facts, it is my job to ensure that the Guild’s message is clear, consistent, and engaging. Lucky for me, because I love to be outside, this requires a bit of time alongside members and staff, to understand the problems, solutions and work going on in the landscape. My goal is to interpret the Guild’s work and purpose in a way that inspires others to build a healthy and empowering relationship with their environment.

 

Please share a story or moment on the job that has been particularly meaningful or memorable to you.

While working as the education program coordinator for the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton, Wisconsin, I directed a grant that partnered district teachers with our naturalists to create curriculum for field lessons that directly accomplished learning objectives for classroom units. For third grade, the topic was water and one of the field trip stations was in a restored prairie. The lesson involved demonstrating the features and ecosystem services of the prairie, as it relates to water movement, runoff, water retention, and groundwater recharge. At the end of a 20-minute hands-on session, the students were asked to voice their questions or comments. One third grader patiently listened to inquiries from her classmates before adding, “I just want to say…I had no idea that prairies were sooooo important!” This student could connect the value of the prairie to her own life because she stood in that prairie and saw and felt firsthand how much longer the roots are than in a bluegrass lawn. She personally witnessed more than 15 insects making use of the prairie. She watched a demonstration of what happens in areas where prairie is replaced with concrete, when intense storms or rainfall events occur, and she heard her classmates relate that to experiences of their own families. These are all things she could not as quickly or completely internalized by learning about prairies from photos or text or even activities in the classroom. And certainly, her own reluctance to walk among grasses taller than herself, full of “bugs and mud” would not have been nearly as powerfully balanced with the value of the prairie if her lesson that day had been inside the school walls.

Similarly, after two days in the field for high school service learning programs at the Conservancy, teachers reported that students who had not spoken in class yet that year were contributing in the field. Students who couldn’t seem to find a niche or even a social group, were solving problems within a team in the field and simultaneously discovering and expressing to others, their skills and what makes them unique.

Learning about natural places and the systems and services operating among them is best done by placing yourself within the examples and observing them in action. This teaches us about nature sure, but also offers us other benefits that directly impact our own experiences of life.   

 

What advice would you give to our student and young professional members about careers in forestry and natural resources?

Use the precious time you have now to explore your options and desires. Sign on for the easy classes as well as those that will stretch you. Insist on outdoor learning time; if you don’t get it through school, find it in other areas and sign up to participate. Take opportunities to travel, study abroad, and get different perspectives. As you start to better understand which experiences pull you out of bed with curiosity and which must push you to even eat breakfast before embarking, pay attention. Talk with others who are working in areas you are most interested in and ask them questions about their daily experience, their level of fulfillment, and what is missing for them. Know that what energizes you and inspires you most can benefit from your skills, whatever they are. Your job is to determine where that match is, and it might not be obvious. If you feel most focused and fulfilled by being outside in the forest, learning about and practicing forest stewardship, but your most natural strength is with numbers, it doesn’t mean you need to leave the forest to be a CPA (unless that fulfills you too). Figure out how to use your gifts toward the disciplines that matter to you most. This comes very naturally to some and takes many years and career changes for others. Remember to let other people help you discover it. So many people have information to offer and you will inspire them by asking!