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Montana Watershed Coordination Council | P.O. Box 1416 Helena, MT 59624 | info@mtwatersheds.orgClick Here to Sign-up for our Watershed Newsletter

Finding My Place in the Conservation World

Liz Shull, Big Sky Watershed Corps Member and Team Leader

Montana Conservation Corps, Bozeman

Date: October 21, 2020

The leaves were falling in the Fall of 2018, and I found myself sitting at the desk of Bryan Wilson, Director of Individual Placement Programs for the Big Sky Watershed Corps and Montana Conservation Corps, in search of the next step in my career.

“Bryan, I’m looking for a professional position that is going to allow me to use my degree in Watershed Science, engage with community stakeholders, and make a tangible impact in Montana Communities. I’ve applied to multiple positions, but everyone seems to be looking for more experience than just my degree lends,” I explained.

“You should consider applying for the Big Sky Watershed Program,” he quickly suggested. 

Liz helped to install a tracking tag onto a beaver to measure their population and movement in Southwest Montana while working with Wildlife Conservation Society.

Four short months later, I found myself apprehensively moving to a town with a wintering population of 900 people: mostly fourth-generation farmers and trout bums who survived the cold, windy winters to enjoy the gift of a Montana summer. I had signed up to serve a 1,700-hour (10.5-month) term of service with the Wildlife Conservation Society, based in Ennis, Montana. I quickly felt equipped and supported to start my service after multiple BSWC-provided trainings in leadership development, an ArcGIS course, a certified watershed education course, and more. I also had the support of 27 other members in the 2019 BSWC cohort serving at host-sites across Montana. 

One event in the 2019 Summer Wildlife Speaker Series that gathers community members together to learn about local Montana wildlife.

Mere months after I had started, I was confidently contributing to community meetings about grizzly bear predation and was developing and leading the outreach and education events in our Summer Wildlife Speaker Series, which engaged over 1,000 people within 8 different rural communities. I had also made friends with public and private landowners, conservation organizations, and agencies to ensure that our projects created lasting change for our wildlife and watersheds. I realized quickly that none of these experiences could be found in a college textbook.

Suddenly, I found the air getting colder, the days shorter, and my 2019 AmeriCorps term of service coming to a close. I had a lot of questions about what might be next for me. The last 10 months had solidified that I wanted to continue to work with the beautiful communities that I had been engaging with. I found myself sitting down with Bryan yet again, asking a similar question to a year prior, “What option do I pursue?” After considering the direction I wanted my career to go in, I took the Team Leader position with the BSWC. This would allow me to gain more experience in non-profit and project management, strengthen my leadership skills, and allow me to continue to strengthen partnerships within Montana. 

The 2020 BSWC Cohort (photo taken pre-COVID 2020).

January 2020 started with an exciting buzz as the BSWC welcomed in 34 new AmeriCorps members to serve Montana’s watersheds. We gathered healthily in Bozeman for two early-season training sessions. Our year quickly changed as the global pandemic made its way into our communities.

In my position as Team Leader, my work to support members’ work plans and their safety stretched my ability to adapt. I helped switch our scheduled training sessions from in-person to virtual, held monthly member check-ins to support our members during the height of the pandemic, and worked to rally team camaraderie throughout the year. I became experienced in grant reporting, program data management, grant deliverables, MCC’s Conservation Intern programs, and general support of a local nonprofit organization. 

It’s once again Fall in Bozeman, and I’ve found myself in Bryan Wilson’s office. This time not asking for advice, but excitedly sharing the career opportunity in non-profit development that I’ve been offered after I complete my term-of-service in November. Through my experience with the BSWC, I have gained confidence in my professional skills, made a lifetime of connections with community stakeholders, and found my place and purpose in conserving our wild landscapes of the West.

Big Sky Watershed Corps is an AmeriCorps program that places young professionals in Montana’s watershed communities to make a measurable difference in local conservation initiatives. Members carry out watershed research, project planning and implementation, education and outreach, and community engagement activities.