By Sunni Heikes-Knapton
The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) welcomed 10 students from universities across the United States to participate in the 2019 Conservation Careers Workshop at NACD’s 73rd Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas. This workshop was aimed at introducing college students to the history, trends and current careers in the conservation field.
Katrina Vaitkus, a recent graduate of the University of Maryland (UMD) in College Park, was competitively selected to participate in the workshop. Vaitkus was a perfect candidate with an environmental background and a bachelors in environmental science and policy. She had also recently completed a summer internship with NACD as a government affairs and communications intern. Throughout her time at UMD, Vaitkus actively interned in research centers, mentoring peers and participating in multiple honor societies.
After returning from the workshop, Vaitkus reached out to her university’s career center to create a career panel (pictured right) called, “Exploring Careers in Conservation.” This event included student attendees with backgrounds in engineering, architecture and/or environmental studies.
The speakers on the panel featured professionals from NRCS, Maryland’s Forest Service, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection and Prince George’s Soil Conservation District. During this panel, students were able to identify how conservation plays a role in their desired career field, ask challenging questions, and expand their professional network.
By utilizing the knowledge gained in San Antonio, Vaitkus was able to successfully facilitate the career panel. She reflected on her experiential learning opportunity, which resulted in improved event planning skills and expanded knowledge in the conservation sector, as well as an acquired professional network in conservation work.
“While I have had interactions with people in conservation before, I am always surprised by how kind everyone is,” said Vaitkus. “Everyone was extremely interested in helping and seemed to understand the benefit of getting the younger generation to learn about this field and how they can play a role in its future.”
Not only has this experiential learning opportunity enhanced Vaitkus’s interest in the conservation sector, but she has also been able to inspire others. The approach she used was a fitting match to the content covered at the workshop.
“This event complemented the topics I learned in San Antonio, as I was able to utilize the knowledge I gained to find panelists throughout different fields,” she said. “In San Antonio, we heard from a wide variety of folks that worked within conservation, including a policy analyst, region representatives, urban agriculture conservationists and many more. Hearing their stories and what their jobs entail allowed me to see just how diverse the conservation field is, where I was able to translate that into my own diverse panel.”
The benefits weren’t solely for the attendees, as Vaitkus herself was able to see the benefits.
“Through creating this panel, I was also able to connect with a wide variety of workers across different fields, establishing connections that will continue into the future,” she said. “I’m so thankful to NACD and NRCS for this wonderful opportunity!”