How he landed his dream job

Parks, Tourism and Recreation Management alum Dan Shook explains how he landed his dream job

Dan ShookMy interest with interpretation started in 2011 when I took PTRM 310. That summer I completed my six-credit Practicum in PTRM by accepting a duel agency internship between Montana FWP and the Lolo National Forest. I worked 20 hrs. a week at Travelers Rest doing interpretive programs and 20 hours a week working the visitor center at Lolo Pass. This led me to realize my love of interpretation. I followed this up by joining Montana State Parks AmeriCorps in 2012 and served a 900 hr. and 1,700 hr. commitment at Milltown State Park which not only gave me invaluable experience as a park manager/interpreter, but also gave me $8,000 towards college expenses. 

I graduated in December of 2012 and finished my AmeriCorps commitment at Milltown in the fall of 2013. I was hired as a seasonal ranger at Mount Rushmore. When my season at Rushmore was finished I immediately began working as a ranger in Yellowstone at Old Faithful.  That summer was amazing and I truly learned the fine craft of interpretation. I would have loved to work at Yellowstone my whole life, but I took a chance and applied for a permanent interpretive job at Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and have been a permanent NPS ranger since 2014.

My advice to anyone wanting to follow in this career is don’t get frustrated and don’t give up. I definitely didn’t graduate from the PTRM program at the top of the class, and I struggled a lot in college at first, but I eventually found motivation and inspiration through the passion of the staff and faculty of the College of Forestry, they are there to help! Use them! There are lots of places around Missoula to get the needed experience in this career field go out and find them.

My story is unique in that I was a seasonal ranger for less than one year before becoming permanent and unfortunately most people do have to work many, many years as a seasonal before even getting a shot at becoming permanent in the National Park Service. Don’t give up!

The biggest advice I can share is that you will never get your dream job at first, especially if you want this to be a career and not just seasonal. I desperately want to finish my career in Yellowstone or Glacier, but you have to realize that you must take your first permanent position anywhere that opens up, and maybe even your second and third, but don’t ever hesitate to get your foot in the door because that chance may never happen again.  I won’t be at this park forever and now that I have permanent status I will eventually make it back out West to end my career.

The old saying about park rangers “getting paid in sunrises and sunsets” is true. I don’t do this job for the pay. I wake up every day and have the privilege of protecting, preserving and interpreting our greatest stories and natural wonders. So far in my short career I’ve timed Old Faithful, climbed to the top of Rushmore, stood where aviation was born, assisted hundreds of sea turtles hatch from the sand and crawl towards the Atlantic on their epic journey of life and much, much more and I get paid for it! 

It all started in Missoula! Go Griz!