Graduation to Vocation: Courtney Kirberger is Educating for a Sustainable Future
Courtney Kirberger will graduate in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences and a minor in biology. Kirberger is currently working as an interpretive ranger at Machicomoco State Park in Virginia. Upon graduation, she will continue in her current position at the park.
We recently spoke with Kirberger to learn more about how her time at NC State’s College of Natural Resources prepared her for a career in environmental sciences. Check out the Q&A below.
How has the College of Natural Resources impacted you and prepared you for your future?
The College of Natural Resources has introduced me to so many like-minded individuals with all different backgrounds and perspectives. It has challenged me academically and personally yet has surrounded me with the most supportive community. The college has provided me with educational opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom and has pushed me to pursue experiences that have only helped and encouraged me to continue working within the natural resources field. They have prepared me to approach problems through an integrated lens of scientific and social inquiry to develop solutions that are meaningful.
What kind of research or other hands-on/in-the-field learning did you participate in?
Since my first year with the College of Natural Resources, I have volunteered or worked in some capacity with the Environmental Education Lab. This was my first introduction into the world of informal educators and from the studies to the people, I could not have found a better fit for my interests. This lab and research experience not only prepared me for future environmental education positions, but it also inspired me to pursue my passion for education within the field. It ultimately led me to the position I have today within state parks.
Tell us about a faculty member who influenced you.
Dr. Megan Lupek was my professor for my introductory course in the environmental and natural resource field, and she was the first person to make me believe that I had chosen the right path for myself. Since my freshman year, Dr. Lupek has always supported me and consistently been there for me as an additional advisor for school and for life. There is nothing more that an aspiring graduate can ask than for your mentors to believe in you and to be there for you throughout your student career, especially when they don’t have to be.
What motivated you to pursue your work?
My work as an interpretive ranger started with the required internship experience I had for my major. I was simply looking for something to do related to my field, and I reached out to a local state park, Merchants Millpond, asking if they could take on an intern that summer. From that point on, I knew I wanted to work at a park, especially once I learned there was a place for environmental education within the role. Not only do I get to work outside and alongside wonderful people, but I also get to work with diverse collections of visitors and help educate them about the natural world and hopefully inspire future generations of environmental and cultural stewards.
What advice would you give students entering your major or field?
For students entering the field, the best piece of advice I’d have is to have an open mind and look outside of the box. Despite my major, there aren’t necessarily a ton of jobs popping up under the search of “environmental scientist.” When I first started, I struggled to figure out what I could do with my degree because I didn’t realize what was out there and how it fits into other roles. It was daunting and almost made me switch my major multiple times. So, I encourage all new students to look for opportunities anywhere and everywhere and not to restrict themselves or get discouraged when they can’t find anything in a particular search.