Career Moves: SPDC helps alumni hit the trail toward National Park Service position
Ben Kashdan ’14 found the support he needed from the Student Professional Development Center as he worked toward a National Parks job.
Ben Kashdan ’14 now dons the wide-brimmed hat of a National Park Service employee, an honor that builds upon his experiences in the Boys Scouts and the skills and knowledge he accumulated during his years at Elon University.
A key to finding the trail to a job as a supervisory visitor use assistant at Olympic National Park in Washington State was the assistance he received from the Student Professional Development Center, which helped him develop the interview skills and professional guidance to secure a position with the National Parks Service.
Tell me about your experience in landing a career with Olympic National Park.
I was hired by Olympic National Park right out of college as a seasonal Visitor Use Assistant, also known as a campground fee ranger. Almost all National Park Service (NPS) employees start out as a seasonal worker in the field, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending my days outdoors and having fulfilling interactions with visitors.
I also had a supervisor in that position who invested significant time and energy in my training and skill development. During the summer of 2014, I took every chance I could to gain new skills and pick up extra responsibility wherever I could.
Since my position was seasonal and temporary, I spent the winter months traveling the country and working for a national forest in California. In the early spring of 2015, a job announcement was posted on USAJobs for a fee supervisor at Olympic National Park, and it was a Pathways Recent Graduates internship.
Interns are paid like regular employees, and they're also eligible for non-competitive conversion to full-time permanent employment if you've performed well in that position. By showing my desire for skill development and leadership, I landed the internship.
Despite several small mishaps along the way that come with being a new and young supervisor, I showed improvement and continued my hard work, and my supervisor converted me to permanent status in that position. I've been working here for about a year and a half since I started the internship, and I love every minute of it.
How did your interest in the organization, company, or career develop?
I was a member of the Boy Scouts of America since I was in elementary school, and during my youth, I explored a great many National Parks in the United States. I always felt so comfortable and free looking out from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway or hiking on the Appalachian Trail.
In my first year at Elon, I took Political Science Instructor Jeff Colbert's American Government class. One of our projects was to interview a non-elected federal employee for a research paper. I decided to call the comptroller for the National Park Service, and through that project and the resulting article, I found my career path.
I proceeded to change my major to public administration and pursue a career working in the fee and budget programs of the National Park Service. In the summer of 2013, I persuaded the administrative officer at the Blue Ridge Parkway to let me work as her management assistant for an internship.
With her exceptional knowledge and support, I gained a massive amount of experience working in a variety of fields. However, the main project I picked up was developing a feasibility study on instituting new fee programs at large parks with hundreds of access points. That paper continues to be a resource for the Blue Ridge Parkway and my career development goals. And without the support and education from Betty Morgan, professor of political science, and Pam Brumbaugh, director of experiential education, I wouldn't have had the skill set nor the tenacity to tackle such a goal. But that internship confirmed where I wanted to take my career goals, and I've been working towards those goals ever since.
What have you learned from the experience?
Sometimes in school, we write papers and complete projects we see as never being useful. But I realized every single one of those papers and projects is an opportunity to learn something new and develop new interests and skills.
After that realization, I put far more effort towards projects both within and outside of my goals and interests. I learned through those projects how skills are gained and developed. Now, as a career professional, I still put more and more effort into things that might seem tedious or dull, because I know working though those projects is how I develop myself and find more interests and goals.
Who did you work with in the Student Professional Development Center to prepare, and what help did you receive?
I worked extensively with Pam Brumbaugh to help hone my interviewing skills and perfect my resume. Professor Betty Morgan introduced her to the class in our Senior Seminar, and we went through weeks of mock interviews and personal assessments to help us advertise ourselves effectively.
I met regularly with Pam, and she would always give me pointers, telling me I was going to achieve my career goals sooner than I could imagine. With her help and guidance, and the knowledge gained in classes, I became the youngest permanent employee in my region of the National Park Service.
What recommendations would you share with other students about the Student Professional Development Center?
The SPDC is a fantastic and underutilized resource. Doing mock interviews and working with real professionals on your resume makes a huge difference when you get a call from a prospective employer. My training and collaboration with the SPDC prepared me for those nervous moments we all get in our dream job interviews.
I wouldn't be where I am if I didn't work with the SPDC as much as I did
Which faculty members did you work with to prepare and what help did you receive?
Professor Morgan was extraordinarily helpful with her students in preparing us for the real-world working in government. I remember coming to her so frustrated that I'd applied to over 350 positions on USAJobs and hadn't gotten any job offers.
She sat me down and told me that is how the federal job market works and that I was going to end up where I wanted to be and much sooner than anyone would think. The day I got the job offer from Olympic, there was a great deal of celebration followed by an "I told you so" grin that showed just how much she believed in me.
I also must acknowledge how much Cheryl Schauer-Crabb, academic technology consultant, for her support and energy in Elon 101. I ended up working with her as an Elon 101 teaching assistant for two years and that experience significantly improved my leadership and planning skills. Plus her energy and effervescence showed me what it means to stay positive in every situation, and that's something I've taken to heart everywhere I go.
All of the library staff helped me with research skills while I worked with the Elite program all four years of my time at Elon. I wouldn't be able to have done that feasibility study without their guidance and support. I wouldn't be where I am today without the Elon faculty and my fellow students, and I'm grateful every day for the time I spent there.