Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

What’s Your Gateway Science? Part 1

By Casey Smith, Naturalist, and Park District Staff

Saundra, Rich and Casey- Solar eclipse party (August 2017)

I recently took part in a webinar recently where Neil DeGrasse Tyson was the keynote speaker. Someone asked him what was his “gateway science”, meaning what was the science that got him into astrophysics. I thought that would be a great topic to ask Preservation Parks staff. Staff were asked the three questions below. I’ve shared their name, job title, and responses. I hope you enjoy getting to know some of our staff during this limited series.

What got you into this line of work, or your “gateway science”?

Looking back, is working for a park district what you saw your future self doing?

If working for a park district is not what you expected you would be doing, is there anything you find surprising about working for Preservation Parks?

Robin the the Garden
Robin in the farmhouse kitchen

Robin Mayes – Farm Educator
My freshman year of high school, I had a biology teacher that made the study of living things come to LIFE! I loved every project we did that year- from dissecting a crayfish to compiling a huge leaf collection. I had always loved nature but that helped me look at it a little closer than I had.

I had always loved sitting with my grandparents and listening to all of the family histories. Unlike some young people, I loved it when members of the older generation began sentences with, “When I was young …” A visit to Michigan’s Greenfield Village as a youngster, created a love of living history that I have always carried and either instilled-in or forced-upon my children. Working for a park district in general and at a living history site in particular was always a dream that I never imagined I would attain! So, I find it surprising that I am working for Preservation Parks and so thankful for it every day.

Casey Smith – Naturalist
I grew up in the small town of Cadiz, Ohio. I played in the woods and creek behind our house, catching salamanders and building forts. When I was young, I wanted to be an archaeologist. My mom says she figured I’d grow up to work with animals in some capacity.

I started college as a BioMed major, thinking I’d work in a lab somewhere. A college professor suggested I apply for a job as a camp counselor at the Wilds the summer after my freshman year. I lived in a yurt, taught kids about wetlands and animal poop, drove a bus full of kids through fields full of giraffes and rhinos, fell in love with the education side of working in nature, and changed my major to conservation science.  

I never pictured myself working for a park district, but it’s what I’ve done for the last 13 years, a third of my life now. I’ve had a lot of rewarding experiences, from summer camp seasons I’ll never forget, friends I’ll always cherish, and leading kids to have positive experiences in nature. Coming to Preservation Parks from a larger park district, I’m surprised at the small close-knit atmosphere. It’s great to work for a place where everybody knows your name. Cheers!

Saundra McBrearty – Outreach and Volunteer Specialist
“Outside and with People”
I was 16 years old and had spent an entire two months at a sleepaway camp in the Pocono Mountains. It was the end of summer, the last day of camp, and I was to return home later that afternoon. But that bright morning campers were tasked to spend an hour of unstructured time alone in the forest to reflect about their summer experience.

I found a clearing at the edge of a pond and sat down to write, remember, dream, and to speculate who I would be when I return to the city. As my mind wandered and sunlight danced against the glittering water, I had an epiphany. I had a thought, or a creation, which both landed on me and exploded out of me at the same time. “I like to be outside. I like to be with people.” This simple creation pointing to my passion still guides me.

Starting at The Ohio State University, my major was undecided. But the first time I saw a brochure for the School of Natural Resources, I put it in my pocket. And soon after I was excited to declare my major of Environmental Education, Interpretation, and Communication knowing it would surely land me in a world of opportunity to be outside and with people. And it has. Ample seasonal jobs and volunteer assignments propelled me to explore this exciting professional field and travel far and away doing so. I volunteered in New Mexico at the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument as SCA volunteer. I taught 6th grade camp and then at a space camp in California. I led eco-tourism day trips in Utah. I worked at a zoo. I went door to door canvassing for environmental laws with Ohio Public Interest Research Group. I even got to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras.

After a decade of adventure, I decided that working full time for a county park district in Ohio, near where my family circle resides would be my goal. Today this reality continues to be my joy. In fact, not only do I get to teach environmental education with a remarkable team, I also get to plan big community outdoor events, and I lead a whole team of amazing volunteers who love to be outside and love to be with people.

 Rich Niccum – Education Services Manager

I grew up outdoors, spending almost every weekend six months a year at my grandparents’ cottage on Grand Lake St. Mary’s in western Ohio. Fishing, swimming, and boating filled the days, but what I remember most is the amazing amount of nature that I was exposed to. Huge catfish, snapping turtles, water snakes, great blue heron, kingfisher, the sound of bobwhite quail calling in the field behind the cottage, water lilies blooming by the hundreds, cottonwood “fluff” floating in the air, and a myriad of other birds and insects, fostered an appreciation and a fascination for the natural world.

Growing up, I never really imagined that I would work for a park system. I knew that I wanted to be a teacher though. So, it was only a matter of time before I ended up pursuing a life science degree with a natural history emphasis, and a teaching certification. After graduation, I found myself not in a traditional classroom though, but instead teaching environmental education concepts to thousands of people outdoors in a variety of settings through residential nature camps, litter prevention and recycling programs and then eventually landing in parks. Though it wasn’t what I had originally planned; it certainly became my passion and my career.

I had worked for a small park district prior to Preservation Parks, and enjoyed working for a small agency. With my previous district I got to be a jack of all trades, doing education programs primarily, but also creating signs, mowing trails, operating large equipment, cleaning restrooms and shelters, picking up trash, and much more. Here at Preservation Parks, with a slightly larger staff, I have had the chance to focus more on education and agency management. It has been nice to put my energy towards the education department and making our services the best we can for patrons. Plus, I have had a chance to be involved in planning and opening new parks, improving our technology for staff and visitors, and having fun each day with a very passionate and dedicated team, who have been an honor to work with. I love it here!






Share This Post:
Share This Post