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Student Success

Graduation to Vocation: Austin Cross is Improving Parks and Greenways

Austin and family in front of Great Smoky Mountains National Park sign

Austin Cross will graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in parks, recreation, and tourism management with a concentration in parks and natural resources and a minor in biological science. Upon graduation, he will work as a parks and greenways planning technician with the Town of Apex.

Cross currently works as a park planner with the Johnston County Parks, Greenways and Open Space Program. He is one of the founding members of Friends of Johnston County Parks.

Friends of Johnston County Parks, an advocacy organization formed by students and alumni from NC State’s College of Natural Resources, aims to expand recreation opportunities in Clayton, Smithfield and other communities across Johnston County.

We recently spoke with Cross to learn more about how his time at the College of Natural Resources prepared him for a career in parks and recreation. Check out the Q&A below.

How has the college impacted you and prepared you for your future

Every one of the professionals that work at the College of Natural Resources were there to prepare me for what is to come after I graduate. If they don’t know the answer, they will go out of their way to find someone within the university or the professional world that can give me an answer, no matter how long it took. I have learned how to be a better person and professional because of the courses I completed and the professors that taught them. Overall, the college has provided me with a well-rounded education and fundamental skills that can transfer into many different aspects of both my personal and professional life.

What’s your favorite memory or class from your time at the college?

My favorite class would be my internship with the Johnston County Parks and Open Space Program. The course project and learning experience allowed me to learn so much about how the planning side of parks and recreation functions. It honestly shaped me into who I want to be, and I will never forget the lessons I learned while working there over the summer. That experience also got me a temporary job for the last year with a tremendous mentor who I owe a great deal of my current skillsets and applicable knowledge to. That experience was grounded by the knowledge that I learned at the College of Natural Resources. 

What is unique about you or your work? 

I am a nontraditional undergraduate student with a family, which I learned is a blessing when it comes to working in the parks and recreation field. The experiences and skills I learned prior to coming to the College of Natural Resources were only amplified after completing my courses. I have learned that being involved with parks and recreation is a huge advantage when it comes to getting involved and invested in my county’s development and enrichment. During my years with the college, I have volunteered many hours to multiple different organizations and that time has helped me meet new people who have similar values and goals as I do. These new experiences have helped me become a better father, husband and professional overall, and I plan to continue working toward providing excellent service to my community and beyond.

What motivated you to pursue your work?

I had a hard time finding my career path, but that stress was alleviated from the beginning of my College of Natural Resources experience. I am motivated by my family who has consistently supported my endeavors in school and outside of school. Becoming a board member of Friends of Johnston County Parks has motivated me to stay involved with the smaller communities within my county in order to prepare them for future success. Finally, my boss and mentor Adrian O’Neal has pushed me outside of my comfort zone when it comes to taking on challenges that not only provide me with joy, but provide the people around me with an opportunity to be a better steward for their community. Altogether, these factors are what motivate me to constantly revaluate myself and pursue experiences that help me become a better professional, no matter the cost.

What advice would you give students entering your major or field?

Communicate and network with everyone you meet, whether they are in your field of work or not. Volunteer within your community and outside of your community to understand ways that you can help others learn to better stewards of their community and the environment around them. Finally, pay attention to what you learn in college because you never know when that information will be useful and provide you with an opportunity for happiness and success.