Eric Hope, NRES 2013

Most people believe that their 'dream' natural resource profession is likely out of their reach, but that’s only the case if you allow it to be.”


Where are you currently working or what are your current activities?

I am currently working with the wildlife program within the Division of Science and Resource Management in Grand Canyon National Park. This has afforded me an incredible diversity in job-related duties. I have tracked and monitored California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) – the most-endangered and largest soaring bird in North America (with a wingspan of three meters), performed necropsies at puma kill sites, managed invasive species (like bison and elk) and native species (like bobcats, desert bighorn, and ringtails), surveyed deep in the backcountry for Mexican spotted owls, mist-netted for bats in what is one of the most diverse bat habitats in the United States (with 22 native species), trapped and tested rodents for various zoonotic diseases, and various other field-related tasks. I also work on database creation/management and am currently rewriting and reformatting the entirety of the wildlife portion of the Grand Canyon National Park webpage.

What drew you to the Natural Resources and Environmental Science program at UK?

Growing up, I was very lucky to have parents who had a passion for travel and the natural world. By the time I was 18, I had been able to travel to the most incredible pieces of public land on the continent, from the Everglades to Acadia and from the Grand Canyon to Kenai Fjords, and gained a tremendous amount of respect and love for preserving what I saw as some of the last remaining wilderness strongholds on earth. Not unlike most people in the United States with a similar appreciation, I fell in love with America’s national parks and had you asked me at any point in my youth what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would undoubtedly tell you I wanted to work for the National Park Service.

The natural course from there when arriving at the University of Kentucky was declaring a pre-pharmacy track in my undergraduate career… obviously a good choice. I loved the biology and chemistry and all the courses I was taking but, unsurprisingly, I found something was missing. Luckily I was able to wake up one morning during the summer following my freshman year to the realization that the only thing stopping me from doing what I had wanted to do from the beginning was my ignorantly-held belief that I had to conform to what the society I grew up with in Louisville deemed “successful”. I immediately contacted my advisor and went to work moving toward the program that I would happily call my home for the remainder of my tenure at UK.

There is an incredible diversity of paths one can take within the natural resources and environmental science field. What was the path or experiences that brought you to where you are currently?

My first experience with the Department of the Interior was during my sophomore year interning under Dr. Patrick Angel with the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), an Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) program. I served as a tree-planting team leader, instructing diverse groups of volunteers on proper tree-planting techniques and educating them on the value of restoring Appalachia’s mixed mesophytic forests.

During the summer following my junior year, I participated in an AmeriCorps internship with the Teton Science Schools in Jackson, WY. This afforded me the opportunity to lead residential environmental education programs throughout Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. It was during this experience I became sure that I wanted to eventually work in a national park setting and would devote the rest of my time in the NRES program getting to that end.

I also filled several positions while at UK. I worked as a resident advisor and senior resident advisor at Kirwan I which helped me gain invaluable interpersonal skills which go far beyond dorm-life; I served as NRES student assistant, where I wrote many of the NRES newsletters released while I was in the program, and acted as the student representative on the NRES Steering Committee, allowing me to help influence the future of the NRES program while creating strong relationships with professors I still have today; I was the founding president of the UK Environmental Science Club which created a forum where likeminded students could promote environmental stewardship and cooperation in the community; I worked in the UK Office of Sustainability as the student programming director, where I created and executed sustainability-related educational programming to diverse groups of students across campus, and served as head of the Eco-Rep program, which helped promote sustainability in residential communities on campus.

Following graduation, I accepted another AmeriCorps position working in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the National Park Service. This was another environmental education position where I was able to take groups of students from local schools into what was for many of them their first outdoor experience. Here they took part in several long-standing citizen science projects, from monitoring tree phenology to capturing salamanders (in what is the Salamander Capitol of the World!) and benthic macro-invertebrates to monitor changes in water quality.

While I enjoyed several aspects of environmental education, I felt that it limited my ability to work extensively in the field on research projects beyond the scope of citizen science. Because of that, I started applying for different types of positions and accepted the one I have now with the wildlife program at Grand Canyon National Park.

What do you feel helped you most in getting to where you are currently in terms of your own personal strategies?

Knowing what I wanted to get out of my educational career was imperative. I started in a program that I didn’t truly want to be in and finally making the decision to follow my heart was the best one I’ve ever made. It was also incredibly important to realize early on that education isn’t only what happens in the classroom. Now more than ever, it’s tremendously important to start looking for internship opportunities early and often in your educational career to make your resume and experience-level competitive in what is a very difficult job market. Had I not decided to give up a spring break to work for ARRI or a summer to work in the Tetons (which was really a vacation, let’s be honest) and didn’t hold various other positions while a student at UK, I am sure I would be far behind where I am today. I’ve been lucky enough to have been told my resume alone has put me at the top of the applicant pool in several positions I’ve applied to even before interviews were performed. Without having put so much time outside the classroom in promoting my experiential education through professional development, I’m not sure where I’d be.

How do you think the NRES program helped to prepare you?

Without the diverse educational background I gained in the program, I don’t think I would’ve been capable of fulfilling any role I’ve taken competently. It’s important to remember that the descriptions of the jobs you apply for are merely a fraction of what you’ll actually be doing. Even in my wildlife position right now, I use many things I learned in forestry and hydrology and so many other classes daily that certainly aren’t in the black-and-white of the job description. The well-rounded education in so many different areas of environmental science was definitely the most beneficial aspect of the NRES program for me.

Do you have any advice for current students in the NRES program?

To reiterate what I said earlier, I would definitely recommend getting involved outside the classroom in campus/community organizations and internships early and often. Most people believe that their “dream” natural resource profession is likely out of their reach, but that’s only the case if you allow it to be. It’s also important to form relationships with likeminded peers and your professors – these will last well beyond graduation. I’ve had experiences from Arizona to Idaho to Kenya with peers from the NRES program since graduation and have strong relationships with many of them built off experiences I had in the program. You’re given a fairly rare opportunity in the large University setting to be in intimate class and field settings with your classmates in NRES and that’s not something to take for granted!

I also think it’s important to explore your career possibilities both while you’re at UK (by diversifying volunteer/internship/job experiences) and after. I had originally intended on going back to school immediately after getting my bachelors but I couldn’t be happier that I decided to wait. I am now capable of moving around the country in seasonal positions gaining invaluable experience and getting an incredible diversity in professional opportunities while making contacts that have proven themselves helpful in finding other careers and even graduate opportunities. I’m having a blast right now and I can credit that to my lack of haste!

Contact Eric at