Sometimes the best career path follows the heart. Whether it is a straight path or a random one, working in the conservation field can be based on your inspiration, interests, or passion. Here is a story of a young woman following her heart.
Sarah Crestol, a current AmeriCorps conservation scientist and educator, started her career along the coastal desert of Peru and now works near Seattle, Washington. Sarah’s path began as an undergraduate student at Cornell University. She says she had only a gut feeling when, as a seventeen-year-old, she chose environmental science as her major. But her college experience turned her “environmentalist spirit from a simple desire to help protect the planet to a deeper understanding and love of the science behind conservation.” Sarah credits her enthusiastic professors for inspiring her to focus on ecology and evolution, but it was hands-on experiences, like field trips and studying abroad, that fueled her passion for conservation.
A semester abroad doing field work in Costa Rica influenced Sarah’s next career decision to join the Peace Corps. For two years, Sarah worked as a Community-Based Environmental Educator and lived with a host family in the rural town of La Estancia on the Peruvian coast. She partnered with the local school and health clinic to promote trash management, reforestation, and the prevention of teenage pregnancy or “The three T’s: trash, trees, and teaching” – as Sarah jokily summarizes her work in Peru. Being a Peace Corp Volunteer has its challenges and rewards. According to Sarah, “Speaking Spanish and integrating into a new community and culture while trying to get projects off the ground was very difficult, but the payoff, in making a real impact in the community, forming friendships, and gaining confidence, made it all worthwhile.” Another challenge was the unfamiliar living conditions. Without running water, a refrigerator, or a microwave, Sarah took “bucket baths” and washed her laundry by hand, and she depended on a rice cooker and an electric kettle to make her meals. Sarah found this lifestyle surprisingly easy to adapt to, though she never did get used to the free roaming farm animals that wandered in and out of her room. One of the most enjoyable parts about her life in rural Peru was her bond with the town’s elementary school students who she taught playground games like Red Rover and Duck, Duck, Goose.
Sarah’s current career stop is working with Washington Service Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where in Sarah’s words she “can truly get [her] hands dirty in the field of conservation as an educator, volunteer coordinator, and field research assistant.” Serving with AmeriCorps, very much like working for the Peace Corps, appeals to Sarah because it allows her to “help improve the environment at the local level.” Sarah thinks that amid all the doom and gloom in environmental news these days, it’s uplifting to raise awareness and change behavior or to mobilize volunteers and students to help restore public green spaces. In Sarah’s experience, the Peace Corps was terrific for personal development, while AmeriCorps has been even better for professional development.
One of Sarah’s goals is to encourage people in the Seattle metro area to protect watersheds. For Sarah, the highlight has been partnering with a non-profit organization to lead salmon dissection demonstrations at afterschool science fairs. She admits that the salmon carcasses are gruesome, but feels it is “immensely enjoyable to grab the attention of curious kids and parents, describe salmon anatomy and behavior, and suggest ways to help salmon.” She has also written blog posts, led elementary schoolers through field trip programs on wetlands and prairies, and guided middle and high schoolers through small group salmon dissections, among other activities
As a volunteer coordinator, Sarah leads events in Lake Sammamish State Park to remove invasive weeds that have overtaken urban forest habitat and plant native trees and shrubs in their place. Switching hats, Sarah has volunteered with other habitat restoration projects throughout the Lake Sammamish watershed, including projects to restore critical salmon habitat.
As an assistant researcher for the Fish and Wildlife Service, King County, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Sarah has taken part in population monitoring studies of kokanee salmon, Oregon spotted frogs, and Olympic mudminnows, as well as an experiment on the effects of light pollution on juvenile Chinook salmon. Her favorite activity has been using radio telemetry to track Western pond turtles in the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area during their nesting season.
Sarah considers it a privilege to be connecting with dedicated environmental professionals in her AmeriCorps position: “They’ve guided me while giving me space to grow.” Sarah admits, “When I took this position, I honestly did not expect to become hooked on fish. I’m glad to have discovered a new side of myself.” And as she continues to explore her interest in environmental conservation, which she hopes will lead her to graduate school, she enjoys making a difference in the here and now.
Sarah’s articles and blog posts can be read at: http://www.ecologicamagazine.com/pdf/Revista_Completa/2018/Eco_Logica_winter_12_18.pdf
Sarah’s path may next take her to graduate school to study population biology.