Career Profile: Jason Welborn

Jason Welborn is no desk jockey – the former backcountry crew leader, outdoor guide, and park ranger has literally taken the road less traveled. Since completing his master’s degree in 2004, Jason has had a successful and exciting career that has taken him from the U.S.-Mexico border to Alaska. “I always wanted to have a job where I could work outdoors,” he recalls. Today, he’s doing just that as a biological science technician for the U.S. National Park Service.

Jason’s first extended backpacking trip to the Appalachian Trail stimulated his early interest in geography by introducing him to new natural environments as well as different people from diverse backgrounds. Although he majored in French as an undergraduate at the University of Southern Mississippi, he minored in geography, and his graduate studies at the University of Arizona focused on land management, quality of life and political ecology, reflecting his interest in the intersection of culture and land use. After graduation, Jason secured a job as a research assistant with the Sonoran Institute, a non-profit organization that supports conservation and restoration efforts in the western U.S. He then moved into the private sector, working as a land surveyor on the Mexican border before being laid off as a result of the recession. “I didn’t want to become ‘The Man,’” Jason jokes, but the uncertain economic climate encouraged him to consider federal employment. After spending the next few years in a series of short-term positions (including a summer gig as a park ranger), Jason finally found the job security he was looking for when he was offered his current post in May 2010.

A native of Mississippi, Jason now lives in southern Arizona, where he is the sole member of the natural resources staff at Tumacácori National Historical Park. Although his job title suggests that he is a biologist by training, Jason considers himself first and foremost a geographer: “As a geographer, one can do a number of different jobs without ‘geographer’ in the title,” he points out. Despite having to learn a great deal about the biology of the park’s resident species, Jason believes his background in geography prepared him well for the demands of his job, which requires a thorough knowledge of natural systems as well as the ability to translate that understanding to the public in a culturally sensitive manner: “The most fulfilling part of my job is being able to educate both school children and adults about the history and ecology of the park’s landscape in a non-academic, tangible way.” While geographic techniques such as mapping and GPS skills are important for his field work, Jason believes clear, succinct writing is equally crucial: “Employees need to be able to quickly get through reports and remember them. Busy people appreciate efficiency – when you save someone time, they notice.”

For anyone considering a career like his, Jason advises talking to professionals employed in the field, pursuing internships to get experience and build relationships, and remaining open to doing work that might seem somewhat peripheral to one’s formal training. Although the availability of jobs with federal conservation agencies fluctuates with the political balance of power, he predicts that the field will continue to grow: “I’m seeing a shift in popular perception toward a recognition of the need to conserve our resources. I think there will always be a demand for people to help manage our natural systems.”

This profile was published in 2012 by Mark Revell