My first term as a Big Sky Watershed Corps Member was surprising, to say the least. BSWC was the opportunity I was looking for after graduating- a chance to work on watershed improvement efforts while also exploring a new community out West. My host site, the Sheridan Community Land Trust, wanted to develop a new program focused on addressing water quantity concerns related to aquatic habitat improvement. I was tasked with laying the foundation of that program. I was expecting to do some research, play in some creeks, and learn a bit more about what a career in conservation could look like. Instead, I spent my year immersed in the complex world of western water law while learning my way around a new community. These experiences forced me to strengthen my communication skills, focus on relationship building, and sharpen my critical thinking in this complex arena of community engagement in watershed stewardship.
It was not an easy year. In the beginning, I felt underqualified for the work and was not sure if I was going to be able to deliver something of value to the community I’d come to call home. I was working with a new host site under a supervisor new to their role. And as a recent graduate, I was struggling with navigating conservation work in action. I did not know what questions to ask or who might have the answers. However, through confronting these challenges, I learned how to ask for help when I need it. I learned to navigate difficult conversations and relationships. And, I gradually came to empathize with a community I did not think I’d relate to.
MCC’s Individual Placement Program Director, Bryan Wilson, was instrumental in my journey towards building a program that I believe will be effective and enduring. He helped shift my focus away from solely aquatic habitat improvement, and more towards the human dimension with an emphasis on building and maintaining community drought resiliency. By the end of the year, my host site and I laid a strong foundation for a program that will tackle those habitat concerns in a way that will engage the community to find and implement collaborative solutions. During this process, I learned to trust myself and my capabilities and to lean on my network within the Big Sky Watershed Corps. I ended up delivering work I was proud to pass along.
A year of uncertainty and development later, I couldn’t be more grateful for the challenges and professional growth of my first term with BSWC. I feel incredibly lucky to be back for a second term. In my new role as a Team Leader for BSWC, I plan to build on the skills of communication, inquiry, and empathy that I fostered last year. Team Leaders serve a unique position as they are members of the program but serving directly with MCC. The role is largely focused on supporting other members throughout their terms of service. I’m hoping to impart some of the lessons I learned in my first term so hopefully, our members this year who might be facing similar challenges may struggle a bit less and trust themselves a bit more.