Alumnus helps people experience nature for the first time

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For Timothy Farrell, who graduated from Penn State with a degree in recreation, park and tourism management, there is something special about seeing someone truly experience nature for the first time.

“It’s a lot of fun being able to facilitate what may be, for many of our visitors, their first interaction with a more natural environment,” Farrell said. “It’s always rewarding when you can see that you’ve sparked a new interest in a young student, a family, or even an older visitor, and I get to do that on an almost daily basis.”

As interpretive park ranger with the National Park Service at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, a unit of Gateway National Recreation Area just outside of New York City, Farrell interacts with visitors to help facilitate their understanding of the wildlife refuge through interpretive walks, group programs and other public programming.

Farrell is also the volunteer coordinator for the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Volunteer Program, through which he manages regular volunteers who provide a variety of services to the wildlife refuge. He also organizes a variety of volunteer events throughout the year, working with groups like the American Littoral Society, The Nature Conservancy, Student Conservation Association, and local community groups.

This role has inspired Farrell to seek out ways to give back during his personal time. He also takes time to discover the plethora of recreational opportunities available in New York City.

“There are so many great parks in this city, and so many great opportunities to really pursue any interest you may have,” Farrell said.

While Farrell loves his job, becoming a park ranger was not always the plan.

Farrell was an undeclared sophomore pursuing a physics degree at Penn State when his career path took an unexpected turn. Enrolled in a wilderness literature course, Farrell and his classmates spent five days backpacking in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in West Virginia.

“It was during that trip that I decided to change my major to Recreation, Park and Tourism Management and pursue a career that I would enjoy every day,” Farrell said.

At Jamaica Bay he’s living that passion.

Farrell credits the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management for preparing him for his current role, including his experience as an outdoor school counselor with Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, which he draws on each time a school group visits the wildlife refuge.

“The department provides such a hands-on, interactive learning experience that it really helps you to develop skills that you will actually use in your career,” he said. “My courses offered me opportunities to plan events; recruit, train and manage real volunteers; lead backpacking trips; develop and implement educational programs for kids; and so much more.”

In particular, Farrell values the department’s requirement to complete a one-semester internship before graduation.

“I think the process of securing your own internship and finding somewhere that you want to spend four months is a great way to really figure out how to market your knowledge and skills, as well as figure out which direction you want your career to go,” Farrell said. 

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Last Updated December 18, 2017