What is Environmental Education Like After College? | NAAEE

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What is Environmental Education Like After College?

I'm Sierra, a soon to be college graduate of the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point (UWSP) with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Education and Interpretation. I wanted to start a thread to get other, more seasoned environmental educators (EE), stories in how they got to where they are today in the EE field.

As a student, I have found that this field is extremely competitive despite the constant need for naturalists and educators everywhere. I've been told that those pursuing a career within this field meant having to be willing to move across of country or at least the state they you in. How long do you have to wait to "settle down" in this career? I mean this in the terms of being able to get married, start a family, and have a stable career to lean into.

I was incredibly fortunate to get EE experience at the Wisconsin Lions Camp as the Environmental Education Specialist during the summer of 2021 that was only 30 minutes from my apartment. The idea of picking up and moving to a new place is daunting for anyone, but more so when you don't know the area in my opinion.

Was it hard for you to move away from what you know? At UWSP the natural world was but a short walk away as more than 70% of our campus is dedicated to a nature reserve. Most of my natural world experience and teaching has been done in central Wisconsin and it makes me nervous to think of packing up and heading across the country to teaching in an area I'm not familiar with.

What I do know as a certain is that passion trumps worry in this instance. Not a single person in the EE field has pursued this career path for fame and fortune, but every single person has had a passion for reaching people and making informed stewards of the earth. I want nothing more than to share this common goal.

If you're able, think back on your experience in college, your internships, your past jobs within the field. Then think about where you are now. How did you get there and what is your life like based on the path you took?

Hi Sierra, although I'm not an environmental educator by training, my BS and MS are both in the natural resources and they both have the same sort of jobs. I thought I'd tell you about what I've experienced so far as someone who started in natural sciences and moved into education. After I received my BS, I moved around the country for seasonal positions, which for most is the only way to gain experience in the field. I lived in MI, WI, KY, FL and IN. This was over the span of 2 years, and it was hard moving, and harder to stay in a steady relationship. I loved learning about the different ecosystems and wildlife, and I got to meet all sorts of interesting people. I have both great and awful memories of this time. Once I went to Ohio to get my MS, I discovered my love of teaching through volunteering. I had a long-term relationship by then and we made the decision to stay in Ohio because the strain of constantly being separated was too much for us. Over the past 7 years since I've graduated with my MS, I've struggled to find work in my field (natural resources) because I never had a foot in the door job in this state, and because the jobs are severally limited in this state compared to other states in the Midwest. But my husband was able to get a nice job here and I really wanted to start a family. So I put my career to the side in order to have kids. I'm in the thick of it right now, raising two young children and wondering how I'll ever be able to work a job that pays well enough and gives me enough time to spend with my family. Once you have kids, you can't work seasonal positions (unless you have a relative doing childcare whenever you need it). You also have to be able to make enough to cover childcare costs and pay the bills (unless your partner makes enough to float you). I know EE often pays pretty well, but I don't think it pays enough to make a person the breadwinner of the family (covering all bills plus childcare). So, I guess for me it has really been about making sacrifices in order to have a family, and about dealing with all the issues of working in this field while raising kids. There's so much decision-making about what you really want to do, and what your actual options are (never ideal, it seems), but for me I decided that my family matters more than my job. The best thing though is that I can do EE 100% of the time with my kids. I do feel very fortunate to have recently got a part-time position at a nature preschool, which will help me do what I love while gaining experience, AND it has given me ample time with my kids. Does it pay well? Not really. Do I have to drive far? Yes. But it's what works for me and my family right now, so it's what I'm doing. Along the way, I worked many, many different jobs to make ends meet (including being a cashier), and I've learned something valuable at every single one of those positions. So my last words of advice are to be flexible, do what you can to make ends meet, but always know what is most important to you. ♥️

Thank you for your incredible response! I'm trying my best to figure things out for myself right now and understand what it's like to put your career on hold for your partner's career advancement as I'm doing the same thing right now and getting married in August. Thank you for all of your advice! I will hold onto it as I move forward :)