Corpsmember Profile: Army Veteran Starts Her Career in Conservation through Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork Program

Gina Kennedy joined the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork AmeriCorps program in February 2020. As an Automated LogisticalSpecialist (92 Alpha) with the U.S. Army from 2000-2004, Gina was an integral member of the Army’s supply and warehousing specialist team. Gina’s duties required her to transport supplies and equipment all over Iraq. After leaving the military, Gina became an automotive mechanic with Sears Automotive in Clackamas County in Oregon. Her experience as a 92 Alpha played a major role in her enjoyment of this job in civilian life.

After several years of working in the world of auto mechanics, Gina had the desire to seek other opportunities using her veteran’s benefits. With diligent research and a lot of reflection, Gina enrolled at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ. Her learning experiences led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences.

After graduation, she began searching for her first job. During her search, she discovered a posting on Indeed for the Mt. Adams Institute AmeriCorps VetsWork internship. Gina realized this opening could be the exact fit for her to continue expanding her education and experiences.

“I was excited when I read the VetsWork posting. I knew immediately that this was the job I wanted,” said Gina. “The position would allow me to do a variety of environmental tasks and community outreach (although COVID has limited my community involvements) while giving me an opportunity to gain a vision of where I would like my career to go. I was grateful and very enthusiastic when I received the call that I had been accepted into the 2019/2020 program.”

VetsWork is an eleven-month career development internship program for military veterans interested in the natural resources management, public lands, and environment sector. VetsWork participants are placed at local, state, and federal land management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service where they provide project support while learning about various career paths. Gina was placed with Tillamook Estuaries Partnership, a conservation-focused non-profit in Oregon.

Prior to COVID-19, some of Gina’s initial responsibilities as a Restoration, Education, and Community Engagement (RECE) AmeriCorps intern consisted of meeting with partners, assisting the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership (TEP) with fundraisers, and helping collect data on Tillamook Bay.

Heading into the second month of her program, the coronavirus outbreak caused many organizations to scale back on projects, leaving Gina with the task of caring for TEP’s plant nursey. She was responsible for weeding, planting, and collecting seeds to restore environments along the coast.

“The effort of native seed collecting from native bushes and trees can be challenging at times,” said Gina. “A great deal of travel time is required to find some of these specimens, sometimes with little reward in seeds collected. However, every seed is worth the effort because they typically go to coastal restoration projects.”

In addition to her role at the plant nursery, Gina served on multiple volunteer projects, ranging from searching for rare plants with the U.S. Forest Service, to helping The Nature Conservancy with transect lines – a method to track progress on restoration projects. She also worked with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and participated in a snorkeling survey to collect data on adult fish populations.

Although these projects allowed Gina to experience different aspects of environmental work, following COVID-19 safety precautions and having to work alone began wearing down on her military-diagnosed PTSD, causing depression at times. She shortly realized that, even for an introvert, she enjoys working with other people. Even if she has to be alone, however, Gina is happy to still be able to work on projects.

“Being able to experience different aspects of what you can do in environmental science, as a natural resources professional. There’re so many options out there in this type of field.”

Still exploring which avenue she wants to take in her natural resources career, Gina’s goal is securing a permanent position. As a native of Washington, Gina hopes to land a position with a non-profit organization in her home state or in Oregon, where she currently resides.

Gina’s advice to veterans wondering about their next move:

“I think the Mt. Adams Institute AmeriCorps VetsWork program is a smart move for veterans who need a helping hand in making their next job move. If they are unsure about what choice to make in new career opportunities, VetsWork offers the possibility to look at different jobs. Not only do you get to work with great and like-minded people, but you also get to work around nature. I think it’s an amazing program that will produce better job choices in your future.”