Into the Wild(life)
MAPP Graduate Incorporates Passions into Daily Life
A veterinary technician and teacher of conservation education programs in her home state of New Jersey, Corinne (Lackner) Stephens’ passion for animals and her community played a role in her everyday life. In 2005, Corinne decided that she would further combine her interests by pursuing a Master of Science in Animals and Public Policy (MAPP) at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Her externship with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to document the exact locations and risk factors involved in turtle road mortality would lead her to join Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, DC upon graduation, followed by an eight-year stint with the Wildlife Habitat Council, and then four years at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay..
Living, working, volunteering, and kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s ecosystems, rivers, and streams, Corinne had a strong desire to stay local and help to protect the native wildlife and environment in her backyard. Below, find out how her education and experience allowed her to do just that.
What is your current profession and where do you work?
After graduating from MAPP in 2005, I immediately landed a job in the Washington, DC-area non-profit world and have been managing environmental NGO programs ever since! In 2019, I decided to embark on a new adventure and pivoted my career! I wanted to pursue a profession that could benefit my hyperlocal Maryland ecosystems and utilize my wildlife habitat, program management, community engagement, and volunteer experience. Before making the switch, I chatted with some local government folks in my network; they helped me realize that working for my amazing county’s parks department would be an excellent next step. In summer 2019, I left the environmental NGO world and landed a job with M-NCPPC, Department of Parks in Montgomery County, Maryland. I am the new Senior Natural Resources Specialist, Weed Warrior Volunteer Coordinator and am managing the Weed Warrior volunteer program. I could not be more excited to work for an awards-winning parks department, encouraging my community to volunteer outside and make a difference for our native fauna and flora by managing our extensive non-native, invasive plants on county parkland.
What projects have you completed in the past year?
I spent the past 4 years working with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay as the business partnerships manager. I am thrilled to say that I designed and implemented the Alliance’s new Businesses for the Bay program. The program encourages businesses to take voluntary and measurable actions to support protection and restoration of our local ecosystems throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. I worked with our Steering Committee of business leaders throughout our watershed, designed the membership association requirements, acknowledged our new members and partners, worked with a web designer on our new website, learned how to use WordPress to update the website on my own, and organized multiple Chesapeake Business Forums throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Through this program, I spoke with hundreds of business, government, and non-profit representatives. It was so exciting to see such a diverse group of people sitting around the same table with the same goal: to help restore and protect our beloved habitats, rivers, and streams.
What is your favorite memory from the MAPP program?
My favorite memory of the MAPP program was my final research project, which involved mapping turtle roadkill hotspots for Mass Fish and Wildlife. Most notably, I picked up deceased turtles that had been hit by cars, bringing them to the wildlife clinic, and worked with Dr. Murray to extract their eggs and put them in incubators.
What is the most important thing you learned during your time in the MAPP program?
I can’t think of just one thing. I learned so much about myself as well as biology and policy! I started the MAPP program with a love of wildlife, but a background in environmental education and domestic animals. In just 12 months, through my classes as well as my volunteer experience at the Tufts Wildlife Clinic, I gained a better appreciation for what I truly wanted to do with my career.
I knew I wanted to work for a non-profit when I graduated, and I knew animals would be involved in some way, but I never thought that 10 years after graduating I’d be managing a program that brings together business, government, and non-profit representatives to ultimately protect and restore habitats and the environment. I think MAPP gave me the opportunity to branch out, learn new things, learn how to talk with people who view the world differently than I, and see all the different ways I could positively impact wildlife. As much as I disliked it at the time, practicing grant writing with Dr. Rutberg truly prepared me for real life at a non-profit! That is a skill I’ll continue to use!
What is the best professional advice you’ve received?
Get out into your field and volunteer or do an internship with a credible organization to help gain some in-the-field experience. I interned with Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, DC for six months, working on federal lands protection issues. After interning with Defenders, I jumped into a job with Wildlife Habitat Council, where I spent eight years managing their certification department and team. I have been a lifelong volunteer and now run a volunteer non-native invasive plant management program throughout Montgomery County Maryland’s parkland. Let’s just say, I highly value the importance of volunteering!
The other advice I received, and now give to my interns, is to pick the sector you want to work in, and push to get experience in it. For example, don’t just tell an employer you want to “work with animals” or “work in the environmental field.” Use your MAPP experience to figure out your favorite aspect of animal work (I went into MAPP thinking I’d stay in the cat/dog veterinary field where I had spent the seven or so years before), and then focus on a specific field when you’re looking for an internship and job. That will help narrow down where you apply and you won’t be so overwhelmed with job applications.
Why do you think you’ve been successful?
I think MAPP gave me so many ideas to work with by expanding my horizons and showing me there are multiple ways to make a difference. Through MAPP, I was able to determine that I wanted to focus on wildlife, which led me to my internship and eventually my full-time jobs. I think learning about all the aspects of animal policy was important for me to be able to trust myself to narrow down what I wanted to do for my career.
Also, I can say that volunteering, in addition to your day job, can be very rewarding. When I am not working, I am measuring water quality by collecting and identifying macroinvertebrates in a local stream. I also joined my local volunteer-led watershed group, the Friends of Sligo Creek, when I first moved to Maryland. I have met so many great people and mentors through this volunteer group, and was elected to the volunteer Board of Directors (eventually the President) where I spent 7 years, which was an honor, to say the least. In summer 2019, I stepped down from the Board of the Friends of Sligo Creek, when I started working for Montgomery Parks.
What has been the most rewarding experience in your current job?
Making a difference with diverse community members! As a mentor once told me: no one can do everything, but we can all do something to make a difference. I am thrilled and honored to be in my position raising awareness about just that!