HOPE – It’s an acquired perspective; the idea of a job that offers satisfaction over highly-paid work. But, that is the concept of working in the governmental sector of land management agencies that are the National Parks Service and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, students in the Hope High School Noble Impact program learned recently.
“Dollars or sunsets?” Mike Simpson, education specialist for the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site, and Casey Hardaway, southwest regional educator for the AGFC, posed to the students.
“It comes down to deciding, are you in it for the money or the satisfaction of the job,” Hardaway explained. “I love what I do.”
As the AGFC liaison to public education in the 12-county region of Southwest Arkansas, she takes programs into classrooms to help students of all ages understand public conservation and wildlife management, and their importance.
“How are your interests, talents, or desires informing your career choice?” Hardaway asks. “What are your good at? Do you also want to do something that you love and that the world needs you to use your talents for?”
Hardaway is not a wildlife expert; her degree from Texas A&M University-Texarkana is in history.
“You need to decide where you fit,” she said. “My favorite thing about my job is when a kid tells me they want to be like me when they grow up.”
Simpson said the choice is the same students will make about any career path.
“There are multiple opportunities at the local, state and federal levels,” he said.
A 21-year veteran of the NPS, Simpson began as a volunteer intern on the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in 1995 while a student at Missouri State University studying for a bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation management. He also holds a Master of Education degree in elementary education from MSU, as well as a land management law enforcement certification from Vermillion Community College in Ely, Minn.
“When it comes to the federal agencies, we are based on what Congress gives us in funding,” he said.
Some of that federal funding funnels into state budgets in the form of grant funding and other appropriations that help support programs such as Hardaway’s she said. But, the AGFC also receives dedicated state sales tax funding.
“That means, if you pay state sales taxes, you pay my salary,” she said. “Thank you.”
The concept is important for students to understand, Hardaway said, because it helps invest their thinking in their community and state.
The difference is the availability of jobs at every level, whether in the Hope city parks system, the AGFC and the state parks system, or the NPS and federal land management services.
“You have opportunities in maintenance, administration, office management, law enforcement here in Hope,” Simpson noted. “And, there are similar opportunities at the state level and national level.”
There are two city parks in Hope, nine AGFC education centers in Arkansas, including the Rick Evans Grandview Prairie Conservation Education Center at Columbus in Hempstead County, and 52 state parks in Arkansas, including Historic Washington State Park in Hempstead County.
Hardaway said opportunities exist across the 14 divisions of the AGFC, from wildlife law enforcement and research to education and operations of facilities.
“There are so many different divisions on the state level that whatever your interests or talents, if you care about conservation and like working with the public, you could put your talents to use working with us,” she said.
Simpson said there are 419 parks and sites in the National Parks Service’s purview across the United States, including the Clinton home on Hervey Street in Hope, which employs six NPS personnel. But, across Arkansas there are NPS sites such as the Buffalo National River which spans 135 miles of riverway within the state which is overseen by 115 NPS employees.
Simpson and Hardaway emphasized the importance of “getting your foot in the door” on either the state or federal level through volunteerism and internship programs which train students within the specific cultures of each agency.
“It’s like practice work,” Hardaway said.
She said most AGFC internships are volunteer service, but some are paid student internships, particularly at the summer and college level. And, volunteer or summer internship work at either the state or federal level is eligible for community service credit required for high school graduation in Arkansas, they said.
Providing a resume online also helps maintain a presence that can get students noticed, they said. Simpson said USAJOBS.gov is the primary site for any federal job posting.
“They allow you to build a resume they will store for you, and when you see a job you like, you submit it,” he said.
Hardaway said state jobs are listed on the Arkansas.gov website in similar fashion.