Jobs / Professional Development

Investing in the Next Generation of Interpreters

When you were getting started in the field of interpretation, did you have a special person who inspired you and helped you gain confidence in yourself? Someone who took the extra time to show you the ropes, share advice, and give you encouragement? For me, it was my first professional supervisor, Wendy Rhoads, who served as Program Director at the Weis Ecology Center in New Jersey, where I did a 1-year internship.

Almost 20 years later, I am still working in the field of interpretation, and without a doubt Wendy is the reason. These days, I find myself doing a lot of introspection about whether I am paying Wendy’s gift to me forward. Am I taking the time and energy to invest in the next generation of younger interpreters? Am I passing down the gifts that Wendy so generously gave to me? If you have worked in this field for several years, maybe you have pondered similar questions.

It can be easy to go about our daily routines and focus on the tasks at hand — what needs to get done for this program, which areas of our site need to get cleaned next, etc. — and overlook the thing that actually needs the most care from us:  our interns, seasonal staff, and others who are embarking on their career journey. Are we going to be the person who invests in them, gets to know them, gives them attention, and inspires them with the confidence that they can be a great interpreter? Or are we going to just make sure they’ve completed the day’s checklist of tasks? These folks are daring to take a plunge into a new world, and the way we help shape their experience could literally determine their future path.

From the moment I started working at the Weis Ecology Center, Wendy took me under her wing and supported me. Even though I know she was very busy, she took time to train me, show me the ropes, and make me feel welcome and comfortable. She took me out on the trails and ran through mock programs with me, gave me ideas for different activities to do with the kids, talked with me about concepts such as child development and inquiry-based learning, taught me natural history basics such as tree identification – generally investing her time and energy into helping me become good at my job. She even invited me to go hiking with her after work and showed me a variety of the nearby trails. I remember feeling astounded and grateful that she felt it was worth her time to do all of this for me.

Not only did she invest in me to help develop my skills, but she also invested in me by helping to develop my confidence. When I would be preparing for a program, she would often say things like, “I know you’re going to do a good job” or “The kids are really going to enjoy being with you.” I should mention that I came to this job with virtually no background in either teaching or biology – so I was constantly perplexed at why she had such confidence I would do a good job. She dared to invest in me without really knowing if her investment would pay off.

But it did. It had a huge impact on me. I had never experienced an adult treat me this way – go out of their way to give me personal guidance, tell me that they had confidence in me – this was just such a new experience. And you know what? I DID start to do a good job. I found that I LOVED this job. Her support triggered a self-sustaining positive cycle for me. Now, it’s not that she never had suggestions for improvement or constructive criticism. It’s that the overriding feeling she gave me was that she was “on my team” and working to help me succeed. Wendy showed me how meaningful it is to nurture, mentor, and build confidence in the younger people who come to work with you.

So today, I ask myself, am I doing for others what Wendy did for me? Am I taking the extra time to help them do a good job and build self-confidence? Am I making them feel that someone is “on their team” and wanting them to succeed? Am I doing everything I can so that our interns and entry-level staff have a first job experience that makes them want to continue along the path of interpretation? Are you?

 

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You are an influencer!

By Pepe Chavez
Every time I teach a Certified Interpretive Guide Course is exciting to see excited faces about interpretation and better understand how to connect people with the resource in hope that they will care.

Last month I attended a session by my friend Brian Forist, he went on to explain that sometimes we should let people create their own themes along the interpretive program and what it looks like in his experience.

Interpreters are influencers! We try to create connections to influence people’s opinion and ultimately change behaviors. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this by nodding out head like a genie out of a bottle?

This morning listening to a presenter about influencers he identified the “social influencers”. People that are not on a leadership position in any organizational chart but people look up to them. These are very powerful influencers since they are natural leaders and people will look for their approval or advise to make decisions.

If you want to become a better interpreter think about becoming and influencer yourself or interpret to the influencers so they can carry your message to places or people that you can’t.

1.- Identify the result you want and measure it. “Get better at some point” is not a measure. When you have measurable objectives you will be able to know what you are looking for and also when you get there.

2.- Find the behaviors you want to change. There are key moments when you can influence people to make a long-lasting impact. Take advantage of those moments and make them count.

There is a lot more to learn about this topic than the length of this post but keep this in mind. We are always influencing people around us, let’s start a conversation by replying to this post or on the Sunny Southeast Facebook page. How are you engaging people to drive change?

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Your profession is a 2-way street

905593_10156238454060564_6815222464763559734_oAs a your professional I was always looking at professional organizations to improve my skills, knowledge, networking opportunities, and at times, their perks. Time has gone by and I have learned that being a professional also means to be part of a community, with peers that often times learn from each other along the journey that we call our career.

I still look at professional organizations for personal and professional benefit but I also look for opportunities to “give back”, to share what I have learned along the way and give other the same opportunity to be involved.

NAI has been the perfect conduit for me to do so and I would encourage you to do the same thing. There are plenty of opportunities to contribute to our profession and here are a few that I can think of:

  • Donations: It could be some money as a direct donation, a contribution through our scholarship auctions, or other means. We can all donate a buck or two and it could mean that another young professional can attend a regional or national conference.
  • 1498908_10154852110865564_6834254784530283653_oVolunteer: Sometimes we don’t have the cash to make a donation but we can always find some time to help. You can volunteer at the next Regional or National Conference, be Perky’s Guard, Assist the planning committee to the next conference (great way to attend), or run for an elected position.
  • Supporting vendors: Organization support NAI and what we do. Some of them are event sponsors, commercial members or just donate a portion of their proceeds. Like Amazon Smile, select the National Association for Interpretation and support NAI by shopping.
  • Planned giving: At one point we will stop to be residents of this planet, you can plan to donate what you leave behind to your professional organization. This is a bit uncomfortable topic sometimes because we never want to think about death but nobody will escape it.

I am sure you will find the best way to support your professional organization just as much as we as community have supported each other.

Have a great end of the summer and I can’t wait to see you in Corpus Christi, Kentucky, or anytime in between.

Pepe

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An NAI Certification with No Class Required?

Did you know that you can earn a certification from NAI without attending a class? It’s true! And it’s called CHI – Certified Heritage Interpreter.

Now, don’t let the word “Heritage” fool you. This certification is not just for historical interpreters, it’s for all of us. I don’t know why it’s called “Heritage.” Probably for the same reason our field is confusingly called “interpretation.” Someone just likes to make things hard to understand! J  But this certification is a great option for interpreters several years into their career, especially if your situation doesn’t allow you to easily attend an NAI training course.

Here are the basics:

  • The CHI (Certified Heritage Interpreter) certification is designed for front-line interpreters who already have some job experience (not college students, for example).
  • The requirements include:
    • A multiple-choice literature review exam
    • 4 essay questions
    • Submission for review of 2 examples of non-personal media you have helped create (brochures, signage, articles, etc.)
    • Submission for review of a 20-30 minute interpretive presentation that meets NAI’s professional criteria
  • No in-person course required!!!

I wanted to bring attention to this certification because this was something that I learned while attending a Certified Interpretive Trainer class this spring. Almost all of us students had no idea that this non-class-required certification was an option that NAI offered. And it’s such a great option for folks whose workplaces might not be able to send them to a training, but who have the self-motivation to pursue this on their own.

Also, the CHI goes a step beyond CIG (Certified Interpretive Guide), with its inclusion of a longer presentation and the non-personal media. It shows that you have not only learned the basics of interpretation (what CIG shows), but that you have been practicing professionally long enough to have samples of your work.

Now, one word of advice if you try to look up information about CHI on NAI’s website: It’s pretty hard to find! You have to dig deep – I only found it on page 12 of the PDF of the Certification Handbook:

http://www.interpnet.com/nai/docs/Certification_Handbook.pdf

Maybe this is one reason that not very many interpreters are aware of or pursue this great certification? Personally, I think it deserves more attention. CHI is a very practical option for a lot of professionals.

If you can make the time and effort to take the written test, complete your essay questions, and submit the other required materials, you can earn a nationally-recognized professional certification that can strengthen your resume.

So, I’ll keep this short and sweet. There’s such a thing called CHI. It’s a great professional certification for front-line interpreters. You don’t need to attend a class. You should check it out!

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It’s Dangerous to Go Alone. Take This (Awesome Map of Region 3 Interpretive Sites)!

You have to admit that the Sunny Southeast is a pretty amazing region. We’ve got everything from lemurs to fortresses, beaches to museums, lakes, rivers, mountains, and nature centers galore…all waiting for the intrepid explorer (you!) to visit them. To assist you on your journey, we have have been building a member map on the Region 3 website to show you the exciting details of the who, what, when, and where of your colleagues’ sites. One of the many benefits of an NAI membership offers is a strong community, and we want to keep growing that community beyond the conferences (like our annual workshop being held this very week in Atlanta!) and other special events.
Perky and map
Last year we sent out a short survey that gave members the opportunity to participate in the creation of this resource map, and we now have about fifteen sites up on the map. That’s a great start, but we can do so much better! This is a purely voluntary map that, aside from some required basics, can include as much or as little as you’d like about your site, business, program, etc. (it isn’t required that you have a physical site to participate). The map is a great tool to use for exploring the area, learn about members’ upcoming events, find volunteer or job opportunities, or even contact another member who may be doing similar work and could help you brainstorm some ideas to make your program or exhibits even better.

To all of our wonderful members who jumped into the pool first: thank you! We couldn’t have gotten this community project off the ground without your enthusiastic support and participation.

If you’d like to be a part of this resource and open your doors to new friends and allies, follow this link to our short and sweet survey page: http://www.jotform.us/form/41329137097154

You can find the map under the “Contact Us” tab on top of the intro page on our regional website: (https://nairegion3.wordpress.com/contact-us/where-are-sunny-southeast-members/), or go directly to https://batchgeo.com/map/9e24546d6d59b2307f3bff302c89cf30.

*There may be some formatting glitches in certain browsers, and we’re still working on the best way to incorporate photos into the mapping process. If tech-savvy people would like to volunteer to help out with this project, please drop us a line at nairegion3map@gmail.com.*

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InTeRn-PaLoOzA

by Ashley Bradt

Right now, at the South Carolina Aquarium, it is definitely intern-palooza! Every summer, we have a group of interns that take over the Aquarium floor with vibrant energy and youthful smiles. I manage a group of ten high school students and it is my favorite time of the year! This generation of millennials are so important and vital to our future. We are instilling values in them that will shape their future and impact their decisions for the rest of their lives.. how powerful. Our High School Internship Program is one of the most competitive and rigorous programs around, which I am proud to be a small part of. We usually receive over 100 applicants, interview 50, accept 20 into the 5 months of training classes, and then accept 10 of those to participate in a paid internship during the summer. We truly have the best of the best by the summertime.

Millennials are the next generation of people that have a real possibility of making positive changes in our world. It is refreshing and hopeful to see such passionate young adults, eager to learn and to educate all of our guests at the South Carolina Aquarium. It is vital, as their supervisor, that I instill the power of education in them and just how much of a difference they can make.

During their internship, the students are members of the Education Department. Their job is to help guests make connections with the animals and habitats of South Carolina in a way that they will remember… a.k.a. “interpretation.” They bring out animals for the guests to touch and get an up close look at, they bring out artifacts that the guests can hold in their hands and feel, they help guests touch marine animals in the touch tank, and help guests come “fingers to fins” with sharks in our new Shark Shallows exhibit. Two weeks into the program, they are already creating a positive experience for our guests with their presence on the floor. What they probably don’t realize yet is the impact that they are making from every moment they are interpreting with guests.

We teach the interns the art of interpretation and encourage them to be creative when communicating with guests. Giving them this freedom allows them to think outside of the box and make real connections with the guests. One of the interns, sharing his experience in a blog, wrote “Carlos and I had out the humpback whale rib and vertebrae and its baleen, showing them to guests just entering the aquarium. A small boy was checking them out and commenting on how huge they were when out of nowhere he mentioned that he had a pet gerbil. Carlos, his parents and I started to chuckle a little bit, and trying to work in a connection, I asked if his gerbil was as big as a whale to which he immediately responded that it was, with complete and total confidence. It was just a fun time talking to him and his parents and seeing how interested he was in the whale bones, especially since he made an instant connection to an animal he is familiar with, even if it wasn’t as big as he though it was, and clearly having a fun time.”

After I read that, I thought to myself.. “He gets it.” Although they are just high school students, they are beginning to understand the power of interpretation and how it can impact visitors’ in lasting ways. I am so proud to be able to teach these young minds their importance and the positive ways that they can change the world. =) What a rewarding summer this will be.

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LOVE

Love is the essence of being and therefore, the essence of interpretation. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8 , English Standard Version). Love lasts beyond interpretation in the actions of those we love.

At our core, interpreters love: this love of nature, love of history, love of people, love of adventure, and love of place touches everything we do. It is the Golden Rule, the respectful workplace, the “Leave No Trace” principles, the humbling of beauty, the commitment to a cause, the passion and enthusiasm. So paramount is love that Tilden describes it as “The Priceless Ingredient.” To be an interpreter, we must be in love. Tilden writes that,

If you love the thing you interpret, and love the people who come to enjoy it, you need commit nothing to memory. For, if you love the thing, you not only have taken the pains to understand it to the limit of your capacity, but you also feel its special beauty in the general richness of life’s beauty…. You are to love people in the sense that you never cease trying to understand them and to realize that whatever faults they have, whatever levity, whatever ignorance, they are not peculiar (1977, p. 90).

In so doing, an interpreter conveys contagious enthusiasm and purposeful passion leading to our own personal and professional credibility as well as our own individual style. This style, communicated through the universal language of love, transforms something foreign into something familiar thereby opening hearts and minds to change.

Cultivating intimacy can be accomplished by story! Story is only as powerful, however, as the relevance it has in our lives- “whatever simultaneously connects to something relevant and meaningful to your listeners and gives them a taste of who you are, works” (Simmons, 2006, p. 6). Because story has meaning, it engages us on a personal level. Ultimately, the story creates a life of its own and becomes the listener’s story as much as our own. Simmons writes that “story is as close as you can get to taking someone else for a walk in your shoes” (2006, p. 44). Similarly, Tilden writes that a storyteller “will find that his hearers are walking along with him- are companions on the march. At some certain point, it becomes their story as much as his” (1977, p. 31). This ownership provides empowerment for listeners and credibility for the story teller- both critical ingredients to successful training. Combined, professional growth results.

To change the world and to affect professional climate change, interpretative messages and adult learning opportunities must live eternal. They must go beyond a day with a nature guide “and give a landmark to his mental horizon that will stand out through life” (Mills, 1990, p. 130). And, because we live in an age saturated with technology and information, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough and to be in love enough that we are able to adapt and evolve with our audience’s needs. Without providing a safe, non judgmental environment and without modeling our own vulnerability, inspiration and excellence become unattainable.

Whether the goal of interpretation is protection, preservation, or stewardship, and whether the goal of the interpretive trainer is professional growth, inspiration, or success, hopefully, the end result will surpass our individual human experiences and last because it exists at a level apart from the material world. By loving ourselves and our craft; by embracing positive psychology through vulnerability and change; and by instilling interpretive principles into professional development, we can surpass mere human experience and create opportunities for self-discovery, for growth.

I believe that interpretation, through love, can lead to enlightenment; a higher, celestial place, both personally and professionally; and our harmonious collective consciousness.

_______________________________________________

Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2008). Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck (Revised ed.). London: Arrow Books.

Mills, E. (1990). Adventures of a Nature Guide. Friendship, WI: New Pass Press.

Simmons, A. (2006). The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling (Revised ed.). New York: Basic Books.

Tilden, F. (1977). Interpreting Our Heritage (3rd ed.). Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

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Mentors – Your “Interpretive Helpline”

Degrees, trainings, on the job experience, certificates, and conferences are all great ways to enhance your interpretive growth.  What do you do when you need to talk to someone immediately and can’t wait on a book, training, or conference?  Contact a mentor!  Mentors can be your “go to hotline” when you need to chat and gain valued perspective.  How many of you have them?  Where do you find them? How much do they cost and what’s the value?

Mentors come in many shapes and sizes.  Perhaps it’s a former coach that taught you, “You have 5 minutes to pout about it and then we need to move on.” A former boss who shared, “Don’t complain about what you allow!” The Vice President of an organization sharing, “Put it in a bubble and (insert hand motions)….let it go.” It could be as simple as watching an NFL coach or other leader of a group addressing adversity during a press conference.

The point is they’re all around us throughout our career and cost nothing but an email, phone call, and “thank you”.  It can be quick advice or regular check-ins. The opportunity to seek them out quickly and receive their quick points of perspective can help you RELATE in times of uncertainty, fear, in the midst of challenges, or to motivate you and kick you in the rear.  At the end of the day it’s an opportunity to take a breather, calm down, learn, and get another perspective helping you and your organization.

While organizations like NAI which is currently looking into mentoring opportunities, or the Association for Nature Center Administrators (ANCA) who already has an established mentoring program in place, look around and think back on the folks you’ve admired as potential mentors. Ask them if they’d be willing to chat!Motivation for Life

Moreover are you mentoring the next generation? What can you pass on? What might you learn?

Go forth and mentor or mentee!

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Ô Canada!


International Conference

Every year, a joint effort between interpretive associations and host countries produces an event not like any other: the International Conference on Interpretation. This year, Interpret Canada and the National Association for Interpretation work together to give us a great opportunity to journey north (or possibly west…maybe east, probably not south) to the great city of Montréal in the province of Quebec for this year’s theme of “Changing Boundaries, Changing Times”. 

canada-as-seen-by-american

Also a great opportunity to refresh your geography skills.

Every NAI workshop or conference has its own flavor. The regionals are like a combination block party and family reunion, where you meet new friends and figure out how you’re all related to each other.  If you’re nervous about presenting for the first time, or you have a presentation idea that’s a little more esoteric or specific to your site, try it out at a regional.They’re warm and casual, building helpful new ties to the regional community along with a few crazy stories. At some point someone ends up playing a guitar while the rest of us belt out folk songs and pass around a bottle or two.

National workshops are more akin to the juggernaut of a big family wedding: the need to keep almost a thousand people on schedule requires more structure and formality, but the joy and camaraderie is abundantly present and infectious. People dress a little more formally, the speeches are behind larger podiums, and it’s easier to get lost finding a presentation room. By the last day we’re little footsore and sniffling with an incipient cold, but the professional development was beyond inspiring and prizes from the scholarship auction are born away in triumph. At some point someone ends up playing a guitar while the rest of us belt out folk songs and pass around a bottle or two.

But the international conferences…ah, the international conferences! I’ve been to two so far and this is how I end up feeling every time:THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

It’s as though someone blended the coolest field trip you went on as a kid in school, the best debate you had with your friends at 2am on a Thursday night, and a festival celebrating a holiday you didn’t even know existed. You’re among friendly folks, but you never really know what’s going to happen. That creates a feeling similar to the regional workshops, but with its own heady mix of uncertainty and adventure. Concepts and practices you never had reason to question are challenged or even absent entirely, replaced by concepts and practices based on other societal and cultural perspectives. “Of course you’re supposed to make direct eye contact and smile at your visitors! It’s welcoming and friendly! Everybody knows tha…oh…in your country smiling is reserved for friends only, and is totally inappropriate for strangers? And direct eye contact is a sign of arrogance and disrespect? Huh.”

Canada pride

I really hope this representation isn’t disrespectful to Canadians, because it’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen.

Even going out for a quick meal creates challenges where you depend on each other to figure out what what you’re doing, and how to not inadvertently say “bathroom” when you meant “thank you”. Being thrown together creates moments of trust and humility, and your sense of gratitude for the interpreters native to the host country grows exponentially as they help you navigate natural and cultural sites, cuisine, modern locales, and forms of communication. They share not only the best of their country but also the difficulties it faces, and invite your thoughts and insights on both. They take you behind the scenes and give you everything they know that an interpreter would hope for, because they share the same passion that got you hooked into this world. You debate, and argue, and laugh, and take lots and lots of notes. At some point someone ends up playing a guitar while the rest of us belt out folk songs and pass around a bottle or two.

One of the greatest challenges to attending the international conference is the difficulty inherent in actually getting to another country, which is why this year’s is such a wonderful opportunity for a greater number of people from the United States to attend. Canada is a wondrously beautiful country that happens to be one of our most accessible neighbors, and will hopefully not be buried under nine feet (three meters?) of snow by May. If you’ve got the time, you can even drive there from 49 of our states (unless someone from Hawaii is really dedicated). The offerings for off-site trips include the Montréal’s Science Center’s exploration of sound and learning, the Space for Life Biodome and Planetarium, the Museum of Archaeology and History, and several national and historical parks and sites. The chance to participate in professional quality sessions with interpreters from all over the world, while exploring one of Canada’s most diverse and culturally influential cities, is one not to be missed. Come join us! We’ll have a guitar and a bottle or two waiting for you.

Granted, it may be a bottle of maple syrup.

wine-bottle-Canada-maple-syrup

Not that I don’t know several interpreters who would totally drink a wine bottle full of pure maple syrup. We love you, Canada!

International Conference on Interpretation

Montréal, Québec, Canada

May 3-7, 2015

Hotel Omni Mont Royal

Early Bird Rate: $350 (until March 16)

Regular Rate: $425

Check out the International Conference page at http://www.interpnet.com/NAI/interp/Events/NAI_International_Conference/Main_Page/nai/_events/NAI_International_Conference.aspx?hkey=b5951de1-c4c7-4c5c-afc8-3a7d391d7814

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Aristocracy….Meritocracy…Vetocracy?

The Economist published an article in December 2014 about the “rise of the vetocracy.” Not (as Democrats might hope for, given the new Congress) veto-cracy, but vet-ocracy, as the newspaper calls the increasing number of federal employees who have served in the military.

The Economist notes that about a third of all federal employees are veterans – a figure that has increased sharply since 2009 – and that roughly 50% of new federal employees are veterans.

Source: The Economist, 6 Dec 2014

Source: The Economist, 6 Dec 2014

Anecdotal evidence supports this. Indeed, this fall, a Park Service manager all but told me to give up trying to secure a federal position without military credentials, saying, “It’s very, very, hard for even the most qualified non-veteran candidates.”

Federal employers loom large in interpretation, so the difficulty non-veterans have in securing federal positions has enormous consequences for interpreters and our profession. For some, it will be a gain. For others a loss.

Let’s start with the gain – a lack of easily-obtained federal positions means non-federal employers will have more choices in the hiring market. This set of conditions should be a boon to such institutions. It is hard for state parks, for example, to compete with the compensation and benefits offered by the federal conservation agencies (to say nothing of the prestige of working for the National Park Service). But the rise of the vetocracy is changing this equation. Individuals who might otherwise have earned a federal position will be available for hire by private nature centers, state and local parks, zoos, aquariums, and museums.

There is a flip side to this – well-qualified individuals without military credentials are at a disadvantage when looking for work. I’m sure there are many veterans in the federal service who are excellent interpreters. But I’m equally sure that there are federal interpreters who, if it weren’t for their military service, would not have been hired. Recent graduates in particular who lack military service and are looking for their first permanent, post-college position – like myself – are being forced to take positions outside the field because it’s increasingly difficult to be an interpreter. The job market has effectively contracted for us.

Obviously, from where we sit in the Sunny Southeast, there’s not much that can be about this phenomenon. We can, however, reflect on how the vetocracy is changing the job market. Here’s some questions to mull over on the drive home tonight:

  • How can federal managers ensure that the best interpreters are hired while respecting veteran’s preference rules?
  • Non-federal employers have a golden opportunity to access talent that might have otherwise been collected by the federal government – how can they leverage that opportunity? How, for example, can a small historic site attract and retain candidates who might feel they are ‘settling’ for work outside of a large national battlefield or similar setting?
  • What sort of responsibility do professors and other mentors have to their mentees interested in the federal service? How should mentors balance the need to be supportive with the need to be forthcoming about the challenges of finding a federal position?

The rise of the vetocracy is a mixed bag. Let’s start the conversation about what it means for us and the future of our profession.

This article cross-posted on the author’s own blog, where he writes about public lands, heritage interpretation, and environmental policy.

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