In today’s world, most individuals can be found indoors surrounded by various forms of technology. In order to combat this unfortunate fight, Bloomington Parks and Recreation has numerous environmental programs and events to reconnect children (and adults!) back to the natural environment. IU alum, Elizabeth Tompkins, has worked as the Natural Resources Coordinator since 2009 and helps manage these efforts. She also collects data at Griffy Lake for the Clean Lakes Program and works with SPEA & DNR in monitoring invasive plants.
I asked Ms. Tompkins the following questions:
What does your position as Natural Resources Coordinator entail?
As Natural Resources Coordinator, I coordinate and manage environmental education programming for the general public, large school groups and private groups. I manage three temporary, part-time education specialists who facilitate programs. I also manage the operations at the Griffy Lake boathouse. Located on a 109 acre lake, this facility has six seasonal staff who rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards to the general public and groups. I help develop interpretive ideas for new and existing parks and work with other members of the department to facilitate a wide range of programming throughout the year.
How did you become interested/involved in this field?
I began with a desire to connect people with nature. This led me to study Outdoor Recreation and Resource Management at Indiana University. Through work in other agencies, then an internship with Bloomington Parks and Recreation, I realized the variety of tasks and responsibilities in a municipal parks department best suited me and allowed me to connect with a wide variety of people.
What is the most challenging and most rewarding aspect of your job?
The most challenging and most rewarding part of my job is coordinating our large group environmental education programs. Even after 10 years of working on these programs, I still have to be on my toes for new issues that arise. I am challenged by working with teachers, volunteers, and the weather and I am rewarded by repeat volunteers, smiling students, and grateful teachers.
Can you describe your average work day/week?
The great thing about my job is it really varies every week. Some weeks I spend in meetings and at my desk writing reports, others I spend my days out in the woods with kids and in a canoe taking water samples, and some are a combination of work indoors and out. I also help with other areas in the department, so I can sometimes be found managing brackets at a softball tournament, measuring pumpkin tosses at a pumpkin launch event, or directing traffic at our 50+ Expo.
What skills are the most important for success in this position?
I believe what has made me successful in my position is being a team player. I am constantly working, enthusiastically, with other colleagues, volunteers, and my staff to make programs, events, and daily business flow and I truly enjoy it. Organization is another important skill. From managing purchases to coordinating programs, paperwork needs to be in order, supplies available, and staff present to make everything run smoothly. I am also fully committed to the mission and goals of our department. I believe in the necessity of a successful parks and recreation department in a community.
What advice would you give to students following a similar career path?
Get experience in the type of work you want to do. It may be seasonal, it may be volunteer, or even job shadowing, but it can give a great perspective of what a job is really like. It may turn out it’s not what you are looking for, or you may find it is perfect.
Where is your favorite spot on campus? in Bloomington?
My favorite spot on campus is Dunn’s Woods. It offers quiet winding trails in between the bustle of town and campus. It’s difficult to have a favorite spot in Bloomington as a whole. One of my favorites (among many!) is the B-Line trail. I am lucky to be able to walk to work on the B-Line everyday. It is a great path to get me ready for my day and helps me leave work behind on my way home, all in a stress free and active commute.
Shannen Keene is a senior from Ellettsville, IN pursuing a degree in Community Health. Bloomington has taught her the value of diversity, culture, and good food. After graduation, she hopes to venture out West to serve for AmeriCorps then apply to an urban planning graduate program.
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