GovLoop Member of the Week – Geek Chick

I got the great chance to exchange questions with one of GovLoop’s most active members and regular GovLoop blog contributor, Geek Chick! She took some time out if her busy schedule with the Forest Service to answer some questions. So sit down, get comfy and get to know one of GovLoop’s most popular bloggers!

Where are you from originally?
Fullerton, California. Grew up there and in Mission Viejo, CA.

How did you end up in Public Service?
Somewhat randomly. I wanted to be “Carl Sagan” when I grew up — to teach people about science — but I wasn’t sure how exactly I was going to do that. While in graduate school for science journalism, a classmate hooked me up with a local park ranger, because I had questions about Staten Island geology (there’s some pretty cool rocks there). We hung out for the day, and he said, “You’d be a great ranger!” Next thing I knew, I was a NYC Urban Park Ranger and my career as a public servant was born.

What does a Natural Resource Specialist do?

The title is a grab bag for all sorts of things; a more accurate job title would be Recreation Planner or Special Uses Administrator. I manage recreation special uses for several districts on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. “Special uses” are things like: someone wants to be a hunting guide and take clients onto the forest; a local running club wants to hold a race on the forest; LL Bean wants to do a catalog photo shoot on the forest. Such uses require a permit from us, and my job is to help applicants navigate the paperwork and then process it for them.

That’s the day-to-day stuff. In the bigger picture, I consider the overall recreation management in various areas on the forest — how many people are doing what and where? By examining existing use and use trends, we can form a strategy to manage the use and prevent overcrowding and resource damage (eg, erosion, trampling, effects to sensitive species, etc). It’s primarily about social issues — what happens when you have motorized users (eg snowmobilers) and non-motorized users (hikers) competing for the same area? How do you manage the concerns and provide quality recreation experiences for all?

What do you think is the important part of your job?
Recreation is probably the most rewarding division of the Forest Service (though I might be a bit biased). You deal directly with the public and serve as the most visible, tangible arm of the agency. Yes, there are individuals and organizations interested in timber, range, and other resource management — but the vast majority of Joe Publics are more concerned with whether or not the campground is clean. Making sure we deliver quality services and products to the public is my mission. And making sure we do it in a responsible, thought-out manner!

What is your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?
My favorite part of the job is working with the public. I don’t have as much direct interaction as I did when I was a ranger, but it’s still there. Most of the time I’m working with small business owners who operating guiding services. It’s very rewarding to help them understand our bizarre policies and red tape, while also helping them find solutions within that framework that will help them be successful. And I get paid to go on their tours!

The least favorite aspect of the job, in my current position, is battling the resistance to change. I came into a situation where there was virtually no recreation special use management — there were some permits issued but an overall “just say no” attitude. I’m a proactive, take-charge kind of person, and a lot of my coworkers (and superiors) have been very resistant to doing the things I recommend (even when national policy says we’re supposed to). This has been intensely frustrating, because the result is that we are not managing recreation the way we should be and to the public’s detriment.

How has GovLoop affected the way you do your job?
Mostly it’s served as a distraction! Seriously, though, I think it has made me a little more introspective about it. I’ve had to do this to come up with blog topics! I don’t really define myself as a government worker — that’s my job, but it’s not my primary identifier. So I’ve thought a lot about how that might differ from the self-perspective of other GovLoopers, and how it shapes what I bring to the GovLoop table.

What are you reading right now?
A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini); Left in Dark Times (Bernard-Henri Levy); Palestine: History of a Lost Nation (Karl Sabbagh); Palestine: Peace not Apartheid (Jimmy Carter).

If you weren’t in Nevada, where would you live?
Greece. But, if I must be in the US…. I don’t know! I just moved here 1.5 years ago, and we’re loving it. So it’s hard to think of being somewhere else just yet.

What other career would you have ended up in had you not chose this?
I really liked being an interpretive (park) ranger. I think I would have ended up there one way or another. I dearly wish I could return to doing that full-time — it’s my true calling. But, the Forest Service doesn’t do a lot of that, sadly.

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Profile Photo Michael O. Johnston

Great interview, there is always something new to learn from an everyday citizen (such as Geek Chick and Meghan) just carrying out their duty and passions, all while also contributing a great deal to society!

Thanks for all that both of you ladies do, and hope to have further discussion with the both of you!

Profile Photo Mark Danielson

Nice interview Meghan and GC. Thank you both for the good words. It’s really great to know a little bit more about the people with whom we converse. GC – the Tongass is waiting for your return! .

Profile Photo GeekChick

Thanks for the kind words. I’ve had such a busy week — I only just today (Wed) remembered to look up this post!

I don’t know that I “contribute a great deal to society,” but I try to do what I can. Customer service is such a huge issue to me — I am constantly baffled at the lack of consideration/realization that that’s our JOB!!!!!

And as for my returning to the Tongass: though I do miss the community of Ketchikan, I like the not-13-feet-of-rain-per-year even more.

Profile Photo GeekChick

PS, A large part of my ideology is accepting my “role” or “place” in the world. Too often we are brought up with lofty thoughts (“dreams beyond our stations” as the Brits might say), and I found that this can get in the way of being effective. It was only when I realized that, no, I don’t have to be a Nobel Prize winner or world-famous to make a difference — I can make a real difference right here. Will I change the lives of millions? No. But I might be able to change or at least affect the lives of those with whom I have direct contact. And once you realize that, and really start to embody it, that’s when you really start to see your impact.

It’s like the story of the mother and daughter on the beach, with tons of washed-ashore starfish. The girl started throwing them back, and the mother said, “There are too many to save them all. It won’t make a difference.” The daughter’s reply? “It makes a difference to this one.” Once I accepted this approach to my job, things really started to change. I hope that my legacy, if you will, will be to have inspired others simply by being myself and being true/honest/real.

Spread the word! If we all did this, just think of the change we could create!

Profile Photo Celia Mendive

I love that story GeekChick and it sounds like you have a great job! Change is good but doesn’t come easy…yet we can make a difference, like the story…”it makes a difference to this one”