APU Careers & Learning Environmental Online Learning

Student Profile: Preserving the Environment One Park at a Time

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American Public University Alumna, Heather Groen
American Public University Alumna, Heather Groen

Interview with APU Alumna, Heather Groen

The following profile is the eighth in a series of student profiles of our students and alumni at the university.

Job title: Biological Science Technician, National Park Service

Degree earned: M.S. Environmental Policy and Management, 2012, American Public University

What have you been up to since earning your degree at APU?

Receiving my master’s degree from APU was a pinnacle in my life. This degree enabled me to work for several land management agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. To assist the USFWS motto in conservation management, I served at the USFWS National Conservation Training Center as a training technician and delivered content on resource management, sustainability and conservation. From there, I began working for the state side of fish and wildlife management for the Management Assistance Team in Shepherdstown, WV.

Presently, I am a park ranger working for the National Park Service as a Biological Science Technician. The knowledge and resources I obtained from earning my degree at APU gave me the ability to work for land management agencies and focus on resource management and conservation in a field I am passionate about.

What led you to choose a master’s degree with us? Was it based on passion or a specific career goal?

I didn’t shop around to see what the best deal was, as far as the most affordable education I could get at the graduate level. I was knowledgeable about the university and what programs they had to offer, so I decided to pursue my Master of Science with American Public University. I wanted to pursue my hopes and dreams and become more educated in my desired career field.

My passion for this field of study goes beyond textbooks and writing reports. Over the past 30 years, there have been drastic changes in our environment. From soil, air, water and land pollution, Earth has taken a beating. It affects nature and our wildlife.

APU offers an environmental program that focuses on all the areas of ailments that affect our environment. There is a strong need to move to cleaner energy and improve the atmosphere we live in. Any way I can lend a helping hand in managing these resources is one more piece to the puzzle. I was driven to pursue higher education and I found that in this online university. I want a life that’s better for my children.

Tell us about your position at your employer.  

I work for the National Park Service as a Biological Science Technician at Antietam National Battlefield Park. Daily, my responsibility is to protect and preserve the park’s natural and cultural resources for future generations, so they enjoy its vast history and beautiful landscape.

My work consists of working as a team with other staff, volunteers, and young adults. We complete natural resource projects such as vegetation management and clearing trees and brush to improve the viewshed. We also conduct small mammal and bird surveys, identify trees and small plants, and maintain trails.

Other work includes the preservation of many other cultural resources, such as monument cleaning and measuring, building wayside exhibits, and pest management control around historical buildings. My office is outside, which I love. I hear the birds sing their songs and watch the wildlife thrive in their natural habitat.

Is there anything from your degree at APU that you apply in your current career?

Having this degree enlightened me to concepts I never really thought of before. For example, I researched and studied several land management policies incorporated by NEPA, the EPA, and the Clean Water and Air Act, and several other agencies to consider when managing wildlife habitat. As a Biological Science Technician, I look at the habitat as a whole and identify the key factors that could positively affect or adversely affect the wildlife and the environment.

Some projects screened for policy and planning are prescribing burns, clear-cutting forests, and planting new grass seed. Burning acres of land is an ecological benefit to the environment, because the burn clears out invasive plant species that impede wildlife habitation. To support the migratory bird and Saving America’s Pollinators Act, the park made a decision to clear-cut several acres of land to provide an area of warm season grass seeding. This new habitat will invite more diverse species of birds, mammals and insects to the battlefield to keep the monarch butterflies and other pollinators thriving in a safe environment.

Is there a particular class or professor that stood out?

Dr. Carol Pollio, or better known as Dr. P., has been a wonderful mentor, professor and friend throughout this entire experience. Since day one, she guided me in the right direction. If I ever had a question, she would respond within the hour.

She is very passionate about teaching and working in the environmental landscape, and we have had delightful conversations through emails and Skyping. She is a fabulous lady, and I value her drive and ambition in life.

To this day, she continually counsels me on career goals and paths and immediately responds to any inquiries or sources of information I need. I truly appreciate her commitment.

What are two key pieces of advice you would pass on to someone new to online education?

Don’t feel like you are in the game alone. The university’s instructors are very professional in the quality of education, assistance and care they provide students. I am impressed by the level of knowledge and understanding of key concepts taught in the online classroom, as well as the design of the education curriculum.

The university as a whole has helpful, skillful and expert staff, both in the administration and academic department. It has been a pleasure learning through this institution.

Don’t give up! It’s easy to get behind on an assignment and say to yourself, “Oh no, I’m gonna fail! Or ‘How am I ever going to finish this in time?’” I think the same behavior begins in adolescent years and continues all the way through our adult lives.

Remember, this endeavor is yours. It is your personal challenges and goals that will help you along the way. Chunkify your content. This means, break it up into smaller sections and tackle one step at a time. You will be amazed at your ability to organize your thoughts and time. Your writing skills and knowledge of content will improve. You will gain great confidence in yourself because this was YOUR goal!

What is your favorite thing about online learning?

Balancing my work, family and professional life has been the most challenging task. My children are still young and so their needs are sometimes difficult to meet when I am trying to study for a class. However, the online platform allows for flexible submission of assignments, so this provides me the opportunity to provide for my family as well as attain adequate study time for my degree.

Online education fits my busy lifestyle. As a young mom with a large family, I need a flexible training experience. I like the fact that I can submit an assignment at two in the morning or reply to a discussion a few days later. An asynchronous platform is very beneficial to someone who both works and raises a family. If I had to attend scheduled discussions and tests, it would be very difficult to execute.

I believe that online education should be tailored to meet the needs of a busy lifestyle. This helps people feel more confident in pursuing higher education without the stress of something else on their “to-do” list. Plan out your day, set your goals and develop the schedule that fits your lifestyle.

What are some important things to consider on Earth Day 2016?

According to the Earth Day Network, “Our planet is currently losing over 15 billion trees each year due to deforestation, land development and bad forest management (that is roughly 48 football fields every minute).” Earth Day Network is announcing Trees for the Earth (#Trees4Earth), a plan to plant 7.8 billion trees by Earth Day’s 50th in 2020. That is one tree for every person on the planet! (Earth Day Network, 2016).

If you’re not able to participate in an Earth Day event, then there are many ways you can help contribute to our 2020 goal. For example, you could grow your own produce, invest in hydroponic gardening or aquaponics, or just simply plant trees in your own yard for shade canopy and food and shelter for wildlife and birds. Every effort counts. If you do nothing, then you are not improving; you are diminishing.

Is adopting sustainable practices important to you? Any advice for sustainable living?

Yes, adopting sustainable practices is very important to me. Building green infrastructures in urban communities, incorporating more green technology in our production of goods and manufacturing, or adopting cleaner sources of transportation such as electric cars, bicycling and walking are all good sustainable practices. These practices improve the environment we live in.

Even a small grassroots contribution helps. Using cloth when wrapping gifts, placing groceries in reusable bags, recycling, installing solar panels on your home, or planting trees in your yard are all great ideas to move a greener lifestyle forward.

Online education isn’t a one size fits all, but it’s a great opportunity for those looking to increase their knowledge in current areas of expertise, or to look at new avenues for growth. Our student profile series will give a face and personality to our dedicated online learners at the university. Interested in learning more about your online education options? Explore our schools and programs at APU.

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