Julie Gonzalez: National Park Service
1) WHO ARE YOU? TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF, HEY, EVEN BRAG A LITTLE.
My name is Julie Gonzalez and I am a seasonal park ranger for the National Park Service. I work in Glacier National Park during the summers and Grand Teton National Park during the winters. I grew up hopping from place to place, but to simplify things I like to say I’m from El Paso, Texas. I have a B.S degree in Environmental Science with a focus in Geology from the University of Texas at Austin. I’m the daughter of Mexican immigrants and am the first in my family to go to college. I’m not in a typical career or a career that I thought I would find myself in. In fact, I had no idea being a park ranger was a career until I took an internship with The Student Conservation Association in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge during the summer 2013. I really enjoy working with people and helping them understand complex scientific topics, this is a career that allows me to do just that while living in some of America’s most beautiful landscapes.
2) TELL US ABOUT THE WORK YOU ARE DOING AND WHY IT IS IMPORTANT.
During the summers my role focuses on interpretation, which is a form of communicating with the public in a way that allows them to create their own meaningful intellectual and emotional connections to the park. Basically my job is to make people care about the place by educating them. The ways that I do this can range from answering simple questions at the visitor center like what hikes to do, to leading guided-hikes where I talk about the resource using an interpretive flare, to giving campground talks about climate change and how it is altering the park’s landscape and ecosystem. One of my favorite quotes that embodies interpretation is by Baba Dioum, “For in the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will love only what we are taught.”
In the winter I switch over to education and outreach where I work directly with school groups that come to the park for school based field trips. We also work with schools who never set foot in Grand Teton through distance learning programs. We skype with classrooms across the United States and other countries to teach about climate change, the water cycle, animal adaptations and so much more. The difference between interpretation and education is that education is a little more structured and curriculum based. We’re teachers, but our classrooms are the national parks. The outreach portion includes programs like NPS Academy and Mountains to Main Street, which aim to expose young professionals who wouldn’t normally be drawn into these careers or aren’t really aware of the opportunities in public lands and give them the opportunity to excel in the field through internships. These programs are really near to my heart because it’s how I got my start in the park service.
"Embrace your inner scientist and help create environments where other people can as well, particularly women of color, who are strongly lacking in the field."
3) WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME CHALLENGES IN PURSUING THIS WORK?
One of my biggest challenges as a ranger is breaking the barriers and expectations of what a park ranger should look like. There have been multiple instances in my career where I have been stopped by visitors who are slightly perplexed, “Are you a real ranger?” they’ll ask. Mind you, I am in full on green and gray, shiny badge, and a flat hat. I always have to stop myself from sarcastically asking them if they think I would wear the uniform for fun. It took me a couple instances like this to realize that they were confused because I didn’t represent what they thought a park ranger should look like. You know, older Caucasian male, tall, blonde, blue eyes. I am a 5’3” Hispanic women with dark brown hair and eyes. Even though I am in the uniform, performing the job, I don’t represent the anticipated park ranger. There are also preconceived notions that because I am a women I won’t know the answer to their complex scientific question. They’ll even go as far as to wait for the male ranger standing next to me to finish his conversation with another visitor as opposed to asking me, even though there is no one in front of me and I am completely capable if not over qualified to answer their question about the park geology. I work in a predominantly white male workforce and that has its challenges when you don’t fit the mold. I struggle with wanting to break the mold and change visitor’s perspective on what or who a park ranger should look like, while trying to maintain the identity that comes with wearing the uniform.
4) WHERE AND HOW CAN WE SUPPORT YOU IN YOUR QUEST?
You can support me and all other park rangers by utilizing, supporting, and lobbying for public lands. Not many people are aware that these places we protect belong to each and every one of you and it’s up to you to help maintain them and keep them relevant for generations to come. Remember, we only conserve what we love.
As for how you can support me in my career; I believe it is essential for every human being to be exposed to science and to understand scientific concepts and how they affect their everyday life. My platform for doing this is as a National Park Ranger, but you can do it in your everyday life. You don’t have to own a lab coat or goggles to be a scientist. Everyone can question, hypothesize, experiment, analyze, and draw conclusions. In fact it’s something we do without even knowing it. Embrace your inner scientist and help create environments where other people can as well, particularly women of color, who are strongly lacking in the field.
5) Julie, WHO INSPIRES YOU?
I draw inspiration from the children that I cross paths with on the job. After all- they are the future generations who we are protecting and preserving these landscapes and stories for. I was once told that I represent every young Hispanic girl who is looking to be someone that they were told they could never be. I want to set an example for those looking to be in this career that it doesn’t matter what you look like, what matters is what you care about and what you are willing to do to protect it.
Photos provided by Julie