Q and A with Betsy Wooster: 2018 Champion of the Year – National Distinction Awardee

Betsy Wooster recently retired from her position as Youth Program Lead at the Bureau of Land Management. Betsy is a 21CSC Champion of the Year – National Distinction Awardee for 2018. This Award recognizes individuals from agencies and organizations that partner with 21CSC programs to help engage the next generation of conservation and community leaders in service, education and training.

The 2018 Champions of the Year will be recognized at the annual Partnership for the 21CSC Meeting, happening February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. This event is part of The Corps Network National Conference.

  • Learn more about Betsy – Click here.
  • Learn more about the 21CSC Champion of the Year Award – Click here.

  1. Tell us about your current role.

    Until I retired at the end of December 2017, I was the Youth Program Lead for the Bureau of Land Management. BLM has a strong education team at the national level, so most of my efforts focused on facilitating partnerships with Service and Conservation Corps and other youth-serving organizations. These partnerships not only provide jobs and job training opportunities for young people and Veterans, they also help the BLM accomplish important management objectives across a wide range of resource programs. The BLM has always been a decentralized organization, so I was responsible for managing only a few national agreements. I worked closely with BLM’s grants policy team to develop clear policy and consistent approaches that, I hope, strengthened partnerships with Corps across the bureau.

  2. Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get started in conservation/land and water management?

    My path to conservation/land and water management was definitely circuitous. I spent most of my career working for non-profit organizations, including the National Geographic Society and National Wildlife Federation. I developed educational materials for kids and teachers on a wide range of topics, gradually narrowing my focus to environmental topics. That’s what I was doing at BLM when our division was designated to take the lead on a more comprehensive Youth Program – one that involved not only educating youth about natural and cultural resources and engaging them in outdoor activities, but also providing pathways to careers. While BLM’s Human Capital Management Program had numerous programs designed to create those pathways, we knew that partnerships with Corps would enable us to engage so many more young people. We recognized that strengthening partnerships with Corps would, in a sense, “bridge the gap” in our programs, creating a continuum of experiences from classroom to career.

  3. Tell us about how you have engaged with Service and Conservation Corps.

    Most of my engagement with Service and Conservation Corps occurred in Washington, so I was somewhat removed from the actual on-the-ground work that occurs across the 245 million acres that BLM manages. But I talked and met regularly with Corps representatives from around the country, and with BLM employees in state and field offices, about how we could work together more effectively to accomplish mutual goals.

    I will admit that I had something of a learning curve when I first became involved in partnership development with the Corps. When the Federal Advisory Committee on the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps was created, I was designated as the BLM representative on the 21CSC working group, an interagency team that worked with the committee. That experience helped me understand and appreciate the contributions that the Corps make to young people, their communities, and their federal partners.

  4. What advice would you offer to other employees from land/water management agencies and nonprofits that are interested in partnering with 21CSC programs (What to expect, etc.)?

    See the relationship as a true partnership. I think sometimes agency staff look at 21CSC programs as a way to accomplish work inexpensively, and there have certainly been studies demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of working with Corps. Others see these partnerships almost as if the agencies are doing the 21CSC programs a favor by letting them pursue their mission on our lands. They see working with Corps as something nice to do if they have the time, but sometimes consider it too much trouble. The Corps do have a valuable mission that benefits society and our public lands. Agencies can and should play a vital role in that mission.

    I would encourage agency employees to look at the work they need to accomplish and consider ways in which young people and Veterans engaged through Corps can participate in that work. Corps crews and their experienced leaders bring a great deal of expertise to a wide range of projects. In addition, agency employees who work directly with the Corps should look at how they can serve as mentors to program participants.

    Whether or not Corpsmembers decide to pursue careers in natural resource management, agency staff can help ensure Corps participants develop an understanding and appreciation for the work they are doing and the mission of the agency.

  5. What are the most beneficial aspects of partnering with a 21CSC Program?

    Crews and interns accomplish important work efficiently and cost-effectively. Crew leaders provide participants with skills needed to get the job done, freeing agency staff to pursue other priorities. Working together, 21CSC programs and agencies are nurturing the “next generation” of conservation stewards. These programs help agencies strengthen community connections and build rural economies by training young people and Veterans for local jobs.

  6. What advice would you offer to young people in 21CSC programs who are interested in careers in conservation and land/water management?

    Let your interests be known to your crew leaders and to agency staff you come in contact with. Seek out mentors. Be open to opportunities that allow you to build your résumé and gain a breadth of experience. While the non-competitive hiring status and direct hire authority are valuable benefits of service in 21CSC programs, federal jobs are not always going to be available. There are many ways to pursue your passion!