NPS interns get a dose of the real world
MONTEZUMA CASTLE - What do you do when you graduate college but the economy is in such shambles you can't find a job?
There is always the option of staying in school, getting a master's degree or a PhD, then spending the rest of your life figuring how you are going to pay off your student loans.
You could also decide to hang out in your parent's basement until things get better, hoping they won't notice you are still living at home.
Or you can choose to flip burgers, put aside your dreams of successfully explaining string theory to the rest of the us and trust your comparative literature major/astrophysics minor will be enough to carry you on to a six-digit salary as a middle manger for a national fast food chain.
In truth, though, there are other options -- like what four young women are doing at the valley's three National Monuments.
Amanda Jennison, Caroline Crecelius, Leah Duran and Sarahanne Blake are gaining some real world experience as dismally paid but happy interns for the National Park Service.
They are all members of the Student Conservation Association, a 50-year-old organization that offers high school and college age students an opportunity to serve in America's parks, marine sanctuaries, national forests and other cultural landmarks.
Jennison, from New Hampshire, has a degree in Spanish and linguistics. Crecelius is an anthropology major with a language minor (Russian and Italian) from Missouri.
Duran is from Connecticut and recently graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. And Blake is a New York native who graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in psychology and history.
They work 40-hour weeks for $75 a week plus housing.
For the most part they spend their days on the monument grounds and in the visitor centers, meeting and greeting the public, and explaining the history and culture of the Sinagua people, Tuzigoot, Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well.
"In truth they do just about everything a regular ranger does. They just don't get paid for it," says their boss, Interpretive Ranger Josh Boles.
Although they would all like to find work in their chosen fields, they are young enough that the idea of putting off the inevitable is acceptable -- or at least affordable.
"There weren't any journalism jobs to be had, so I decided to fall back on my minor, parks and protected area management," says Duran, "I'm here because I want the experience, I can afford to be dirt poor, and nothing else was happening."
They all have a tale or two to tell of the dismal job market. And none of them are fully accustomed to the summer weather.
But at the same time, none of them regrets the decisions they made that brought them to the Verde Valley.
"I always wanted to get into the Park Service," says Blake, "I went to a family birthday party and talked to a cousin who was a park ranger. Here I am. I love the outdoors. I hate the idea of working in an office and I will talk my brains out to just about anyone who will listen."
Jennison says she thought about using her Spanish degree to get into the Border Patrol, but decided instead to serve as a volunteer with AmeriCorps. Through that organization, she discovered SCA.
"I spoke to Josh one day and got really excited with the opportunity to do some interpretive work at a National Park. And I had never been west. I decided to give it a shot. It's been great," says Jennison.
They are all serving a 16-week internship, after which their plans, for the most part, are to continue putting off the inevitable.
Duran says she has signed up for a 10-month stint as a volunteer with the State of Massachusetts. She will be living by a lake, teaching conservation education in the winter and working on trails in the summer.
Jennison will be doing a similar internship at a state park in New Hampshire.
Crecelius says she is headed back to Missouri to work on a mushroom farm, cook in a bakery, and take a trip to Russia sponsored by a local Rotary club.
Blake says she will first go to the Grand Canyon to shadow some search and rescue workers and see if she can finagle a backcountry job come next summer.
After that she will be working at a restaurant back home, practicing rock climbing and rappelling, and doing whatever it takes to avoid working in an office.
And they all say will be leaving with a new outlook on the world.
"In college you are surrounded by people with similar interests and understandings. The real world is completely different," says Crecelius, "Before I came here I wondered what I would do with an anthropology degree.
"Now I know. I will answer questions like, "where did the Sinagua go to the bathroom.' This has truly been an eye opening experience and my first freefall since kindergarten."