Elizabeth Burke ’21
“I did not have much time to pack—nonetheless process that I had graduated with the Class of 2021—before I travelled across the country to begin my first job with the United States Forest Service in Sitka, Alaska. Six days after graduating, I was on a plane flying thousands of miles to start my job as a member of a seasonal trail crew. The first two weeks where a whirlwind of meeting new people, attending trainings, and getting my bearings in a new town. I had received training on chainsaws, rifle use, bear spray, radios, and seashore survival, in addition to the standard driving and CPR first-aid training. Before long, I got to go out in the field. I was netting bridges, adding gravel to trails, building a fishing weir, clearing out a fish pass, going on cabin maintenance trips, and even assisting an archaeologist on her survey. Throughout my travels to different project sites, I have seen humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, coastal brown bears, black tailed deer, minks, and various species of woodpeckers. I get to work outside every day and make the environment and its many wonders more accessible to anyone privileged enough to live near or be able to visit Sitka, Alaska. I love my current job, and I have Ursinus to thank for helping me get here.
At Ursinus, I majored in environmental studies with minored in studio art and biology. I was a member of both the women’s basketball and ultimate frisbee teams. I was also a Writing Fellow, tutor, academic coach, Sustainability Fellow, and an Institute for Student Success employee. It was not uncharacteristic for me to be sprinting across campus to pick up my mail between obligations. Though, at times, it was stressful, I loved the chaotic nature of my life because it meant that I was doing all of the things I cared about. I could foster my love for the environment through my classes and research, and I could release my energy on the basketball court or out on the Berman lawn throwing a frisbee.
As much as Ursinus presented me with the opportunities to pursue my passions, the onus was on me to make those opportunities a reality. Ursinus challenged me to maximize what I could do and achieve in my four years. I got to work getting first a campus job at the Institute for Student Success (ISS), and then another as a tutor. I studied abroad in Panama and then participated in a Habitat for Humanity service trip right before COVID-19 lockdowns started. Each year, I added something new to do. Everyone, from my bosses at the ISS to my professors in the environmental health and safety department, offered me the support and advice on how to appeal to my interests and curiosity until finally I came to my senior year.
The next step was not a new academic year; it was a new job. I had no idea what I wanted to do except that I wanted to do work in environmental field, but the environmental field is so vast that I did not know where to begin. That’s when my amazing academic advisor, Rich Wallace, directed me to the Student Conservation Association (SCA). He explained that it’s an organization that pools a variety of environmental jobs together and provides the means for individuals like me to travel across the United States to do environmental work. It seemed like a great way to kickstart career, so I submitted applications until I got hired to work for the U.S. Forest Service.
This opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without attending Ursinus College. Ursinus provided me with the space to make my own experiences and adventures. My coaches, professors, and friends encouraged me to take risks and follow my passions. They believed in my ability to succeed and helped encourage me to follow my adventurous spirit no matter where it might take me or how daunting it may appear. My Ursinus family has helped make it possible for me to develop into the person I want to be and that’s why I was able to write this from Sitka, Alaska, surrounded by gorgeous snow capped mountains.” - Elizabeth Burke ’21