MEET RILEY! He graduated in May 2019 with his degree in Integrative Studies. His focus areas were Communication Studies, Biology, and Human Development and Family Studies with a minor in Philosophy. He is currently working for the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department as an Environmental Conservation Information Specialist.
We asked Riley some questions, advice for current students, and how UNT helped him to succeed and SOAR BEYOND!
When you started at UNT, what were your plans after graduation? How have these plans changed? When I began at UNT, my plan after graduation was to serve in the Peace Corps. With the ongoing global pandemic, these plans, as is the case for countless people, have had to change. I am currently working with the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department and I plan to continue my education to pursue a Master’s degree in environmental sociology or sustainability studies.
What advice do you have for prospective or current students as they decide what they want their next steps to be? Some of the best advice I can offer is for students to avoid comparing themselves to other students. There are infinite ways to get an impactful, amazing college education, especially at a school like UNT. Depending on one’s passions and desires for their own education and career, steps to get where they’d like to be can be incredibly unique. I would encourage students to trust themselves. It is also important to establish a diverse support system during their time at UNT, including peers, professors, and staff members. Some of the most inspirational professors I met at UNT continue to serve as advisors and inspirations. These experienced professionals can offer guidance and advice to students as students’ horizons expand and dreams for the future solidify. Students should make a priority to keep in touch with professors and staff members that have had the greatest impact on their learning experience, as they will be able to support students throughout their college experience and beyond. It is also important that students remember, as diverse as college experiences can be, post-college success does not have to fit into a neat box; it can look countless ways, too.
How did your program at UNT help you to feel prepared for this role? My program helped me understand the importance of praxis outside the classroom. This means taking what we learned in the classroom and translating the lessons into practice in the real world. My job with the City of Austin involves teaching young people about the environment through experiential learning. We teach children in an organic garden, along creeks throughout Austin, and even in a cave. This role requires an interdisciplinary approach to environmental education, dependent on sociological awareness, biological sciences, age-appropriate education, communal stewardship, and much more that I doubt would have been possible to learn without my Integrative Studies degree.
How did you find your current role? A former boss at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center put me in touch with supervisors of the Watershed Protection Department’s Education team, and I was lucky they were hiring.
What was the toughest interview question they asked you? I was asked to detail specific experiences I’d had at UNT in which I completed the specific education lessons the Watershed Education team teaches young people in Austin. I was able to speak to experiences studying aquatic macroinvertebrates thanks to professors in Ecology and Philosophy departments, organic gardening thanks to an internship I completed at an organic farm in a food desert as well as my experience and the UNT community garden, and general environmental education practice picked up at the Elm Fork Education Center. Jobs in the environmental sector rely much more on practical experience in the field, rather than just work students have done in the classroom.
How, if at all, did the Career Center help you? The Career Center helped me prepare my post-graduation resume so I would be ready for job applications across a range of disciplines.
Would you like to be featured in our Soaring Beyond Success Series? Email Jeanette Hickl. We’d love to share your story!