By Jazzmyn Mullen
Like a winding river, my career has not been a straight path. Right out of high school I was interested in the medical field and becoming a physical therapist. I attended the University of Montana for two years and realized college was not the right fit. At that time in my life, going to school did not make me happy. I felt like I was wasting time and money. Growing up in Montana and then moving to another town in Montana for college did not broaden my worldview very wide. It was time to get out of Montana and explore. My traveling did not consist of foreign places. However, I decided to travel to Alaska and Hawaii. These destinations seemed like they would be difficult locations for my family to come and visit. I worked service jobs such as a barista at an RV park, and an early morning baker at a bakery. These were not the jobs that I wanted to settle in. I did always have a goal in mind while traveling. The goal of becoming an environmental educator veered significantly from my dream of becoming a physical therapist. While traveling I volunteer at non-profits that focused on environmental education. Jump forward to this past year, I have been serving as an Energy Corps member and it has helped reaffirm the direction I want my career path to flow.
While serving at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in Helena as the SMART Schools coordinator, I was working with schools across the State of Montana, and encouraged educators to integrate sustainability into their classroom projects and curriculum. I have known for some time that I didn’t want to be a public-school teacher; however, my interest in educating children of all ages about the environment and natural processes was ignited by my Energy Corps service term position. Towards the beginning of my service term I was doubting my choice to do service work. I asked myself quite a few times, what are you doing? I recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in ecology and had worked two field seasons for the forest service. Now, I took an oath of poverty and am hardly making any money at all. Was service work the right choice for me? When I first started my service term, I was skeptical of this answer. Now, I can without a doubt say, “yes, I am glad and proud that I was selected to be an Energy Corps member!”
Over the past month we learned that Energy Corps will not continue as a program for the time being. I found this news to be disheartening. Energy Corps was not only provided a learning opportunity, but it also helped me grow in my career and make lasting professional connections. I have shared figure 1 with you, because it demonstrates how a majority of individual with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineer, or Math) degree are not working in their career field. Individuals might have willingly chosen a job or career out of their STEM degree. I have assumed that this was not a choice for many of these STEM graduates.
Figure 1 was found in a blog at Medium. Link to the article: https://medium.com/@renebaekgoddard/stem-isnt-smarter-it-s-just-more-capitalist-94efc0c514cd.
For me Energy Corps was a stepping stone and a way to meet STEM professionals and make connections. Without the opportunity to join Energy Corps right after graduating with a bachelor’s degree, I think it would be harder to make these connections that are key to a successful career. Now that my service term is coming to completion I now know that it was a waste of time to doubt my choice of being an Energy Corps member. Having the position of SMART Schools Coordinator for the last 9 months has reaffirmed what direction I want my career to go, as an environmental educator. Every experience has helped me move forward towards this career goal. No one can ever take away educator or my service experience. While traveling I veered away from this career path, however I had experiences that you cannot get from working or going to school in a familiar place. When I went to places that I didn’t know anyone, I encountered kindness from people during times that I needed it most. While I was completing my service term, I kept this in mind. Serving an Energy Corps service term was one way that I was able to give back to humanity, make professional connections and move my career forward.