Lady Ranger: from Trader Jess to Ranger Jess
Two years ago, an employee at Trader Joe’s quit the job she had held for the previous eleven years of her life. She had decided it was time to put down the shopping bags and lace up her hiking boots.
Jessica began considering a a career as a ranger while obtaining her bachelors at Cal. But as we all know, nothing is ever as easy as it seems- especially here at Cal. It did not take her long to discover that joining the park service was no walk in the park.
“The knowledge that you are a public servant… that means something to the people working in the park service. A lot of people apply, and a lot of people stay for a long time because they love their jobs.”
The fact that there are so many dedicated public servants means that few spots open up every year. As a result, the application process for permanent positions with the park service is extremely competitive. Seasonal positions, though less difficult to come by, have their own challenges. A seasonal employee must reapply every six months to secure a new job with the park service. Job security is an impossible reality for these rangers, a fantasy they can only dream of- much like their dreams of befriending grizzly bears, and not having to chase awkwardly after their hats on windy days.
After Jessica began her application process, she came to realize that the surest way of obtaining a position would be to enter the park service through a Pathways Internship. The Pathways Internship allows an applicant to only compete for positions with other students. The internship is a way for accepted applicants to gain federal work experience so that when the time comes to apply for a seasonal or permanent position, they are some of the most competitive candidates. However, as a condition of the internship, Jessica would have to return to school and obtain her masters.
But the Pathways Internship was not the only reason she decided to return to school. “I started at a community college when I was 18, and I went for six years trying to discover something I loved. Finally, I discovered geography.” Jessica earned her bachelors in geography from Cal, but because Cal has courses focused on the social sciences, Jessica decided the best way to enter the job market was to obtain a degree focused on the scientific aspect of geography.
Her love of the subject, her desire to broaden her job opportunities, and her conviction that she would someday be a teacher led her to graduate school. Currently she is attending San Francisco State, working on her masters with a focus on Environmental Planning and Resource Conservation.
As her internship is about to come to an end in August, Jess admits that the uncertainty of the job is not something that’s easy to adjust to. “I worked at Trader Joe’s for eleven years and actually took a pay cut to work for the park service. So it has been a challenge for me to get used to the uncertainty that this position holds.”
So why does she do it?
Ranger Jessica’s internship brought her to the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park (yes, she can say that five times fast). And when she started, it wasn’t exactly what she expected.
Rosie the Riveter is a small National Park in Richmond, California that consists of a museum and a part of the San Francisco Bay trail. The area was preserved because of the integral part it played in American history. The shipyards that Rosie is built alongside are the same shipyards that turned out hundreds of ships each month during World War Two.
“My goal was to get into one of those big, iconic wilderness parks, like Yosemite. That was my idea when I first started. And honestly, Rosie wasn’t my first choice- John Muir was. I felt strongly about John Muir because he was someone who cares about wilderness as much as I do.”
What makes Rosie so unique is not only the fact that it provided the largest amount of ships for the war effort, but it also- in a very Californian way- brought people of different races, ages, genders, and abilities together. Women, including women of color, were introduced to what was previously considered “men’s work”, and jobs were open to the elderly, the blind, Chinese Americans and many more. For the city of Richmond, it is a symbol of unity and a point of pride.
“Now that I have been working at a small historical park, I have totally changed my mind. Working for a small park has incredible opportunities. The park is new, so people don’t really know about us yet. Plus our park has a history- I like to call it an untold history. And we get to tell that untold story.”
Jessica Sloan is an interpretive ranger, which means that it is her job to relay the historical and cultural significance of the national parks. She considers herself to be a translator, a storyteller, and a teacher. That aspect of her job, Jessica says, is the most rewarding. Due to President Obama’s enactment of the Every Kid in a Park program, she is able to see local students visit a park they knew nothing about and walk away with a newfound pride for their city, as well as an understanding of the importance and delicateness of their environment. In this way, Jessica sees President Obama’s goal of fostering new stewards of the Earth come to fruition.
Fortunately, the role of a national park ranger is a dynamic one. Jessica is also putting together the junior ranger booklets for her museum, creating an audio visual tour for people with disabilities, and in her spare time is studying how the social category of “teenagers” was actually developed during World War II.
“If you are interested in history, in cultural aspect, in museums, if you’re a naturalist, if you want to be a part of maintenance, if you just want to clean bathrooms and serve your country… there is a job for you in the parks service. Every single job plays a role in preserving culture.”
But not every part of being a ranger is what applicants expect it to be. A lot of people, Jess admits, do not realize how much work it is. The park service is one of the lowest funded government departments, which means a lot of work falls to a limited number of rangers.
“There are parts of the job- like any job- that are kind of exhausting. But the people who work here are generally so passionate that they can look past that. And consider this: Rangers go to other national parks when they’re on vacation. Who goes to work for a vacation?” In other words, it’s totally worth it.
If you are interested in helping the park service on a smaller scale, volunteers are always welcome. Additionally, the Every Kid in a Park internship will be continuing at Rosie in fall. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask any of the rangers at our National Parks and they’ll be happy to help!