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Corps to Career – Kenneth De Jesus Graciani

We are so happy to be able to share another Corps to Career success story out of our ACE Puerto Rico program.
Former ACE Member Kenneth De Jesus Graciani worked as an ACE corps member from October 2015 – April 2016. Kenneth was able to take his experience and work ethic and transition to a position working for NPS at San Juan National Historic Site.
We sat down with Kenneth for a Q and A to find out about where he is with NPS, how he achieved his goal of working for an agency and how ACE was a small part of his journey.

kenneth-de-jesus-gracianiWhere are you from originally? I am from Arroyo, Puerto Rico.
What motivated you or inspired you to be in conservation? I wanted to get experience doing this kind of work. My father and Uncle both work in conservation for the National Park Service and so at a young age I was very interested in this type of work and I wanted to learn as much as I could.
How did you find out about ACE? My Uncle saw a flyer for the Conservation Corps at the NPS office and he told me about the opportunity.
What was your role with ACE? My role as a crew member with ACE was to carry out the daily projects that were assigned to us by NPS staff and our crew leaders. The work involved historic preservation, trail maintenance, new trail construction, and removing unwanted trees that were damaging the historic fortress.
kenneth-teamworkWhat was your favorite project and why? I loved the “outworks” trail project. It involved mixing cement and building a new network of trails for tourists to enjoy that were not there before. The work was very rewarding and both NPS staff and Park visitors were appreciative of our efforts.
What was one of your biggest challenges? When you have good training and leadership from NPS and ACE, all projects are possible and none were too challenging.
What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE corps member? Everything. I loved mixing concrete to building new trails. I learned new skills from the crew leaders that gave me the confidence to apply for an NPS job.
How did you attain the position with NPS? I attained this position by gaining skills, experience, and confidence with ACE and then applied to the NPS job at a time when they were hiring.
What are your job responsibilities with NPS? I am a maintenance worker for the National Park Service, San Juan Natl Historic Site. My main responsibilities include repairing historic structures, building concrete columns, welding, fencing, operating a circular saw and keeping up with maintenance of the park in a safe, efficient, manner. In the summer months I was the liaison between the NPS and the YCC crew.
Do you think ACE has helped prepare you for your future career? Definitely. ACE gave me the opportunity to work with them, learn new skills, gain valuable experience, and get exposure by working closely with NPS staff.
group-photoWhat are your future goals? I would like to continue learning as much as I can to grow and develop into a leader with the National Park Service. In 5 years I hope to be in a leadership position in the National Park Service. I would love to work with young adults and mentor them.
How has ACE helped to shape who you are personally and professionally? ACE helped me with everything. The crew leaders taught me technical skills, responsibility, leadership, and good work habits. I learned great teamwork. If it wasn’t for ACE, I would not be working with the National Park Service.
What advice can you offer to future corps members who are looking to get into the conservation field? Never say “no”. You need to be flexible and open to any type of work and any type of project. You need to be inspired to work for ACE and gain skills to have a good experience in ACE and be competitive for federal jobs.kenneth-prepping-for-new-trail

*If you are an ACE Alumni and are interested in sharing your Corps to Career story please contact Susie Jardine at susie@usaconservation.org

Where are they now | Chase Kane

In the first installment of ‘ACE Alums – Where are they now?’ we feature an interview with Chase Kane, a former AmeriCorps 450 hour Corpsmember who now works as a Facility Supervisor for Loudoun County Parks & Recreation.

[ACE] What is your background? Where are you from?
[I’m from Northern Virginia, and I go to Northern Virginia Community College. I’m an International Studies major. 


What motivated or inspired you to be in conservation?
I became interested in conservation and environmental work after I decided I didn’t want to be a computer science major. It’s my goal to find a career in which I will be able to travel, and work outdoors.


How did you find ACE?
I found ACE through a google search, I was seeking environmental internships/outdoor work.


What was your favorite aspect of being and ACE corpsmember?
My favorite aspect of being an ACE corps member was the travel. I had the fortune to do a lot of travel during my 450 hour term. I traveled to Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee with ACE. Not only did I travel all across the U.S, but with ACE I was able to meet people in the National Park Service, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management. I was able to glean a wealth of knowledge from the connections ACE provided me with, and received multiple references.


ACE SouthEast Alum Cave Trail Crew (2)

What was your favorite hitch and why?
My favorite hitch was the Great Smoky Mountains trail crew. The hitch was rewarding in every regard. On that crew, I learned the basics of building trail. I know how to cross cut, level tread, outslope, build Czech steps and stairs, and use a chisel and power chisel. Additionally, we performed a two-mile hike in uphill and our progress was very visible. Every day on our way to work we walked past all of our previous progress, and the progress our other crews had made before us. That alone was encouraging and inspiring.

What tasks did you train for and participate in while on projects? Which was your favorite and why?
To be fair, I didn’t undergo much training. I was trained in herbicide, but I was never sent on a herbicide project. Also, because I was on a 450 hour term; I was not trained in chainsaw usage.


What was one of the biggest challenges?
The most challenging part of working with ACE was keeping a positive mental attitude and going without technology for extended periods of time. The work days could be long and the work demanding, but it was a very valuable experience. ACE really helped strengthen my patience and furthered my teambuilding skills.


What are your future goals?
My future goals are to land a position with a nonprofit or government agency in the field of community outreach. It’s my desire to bring communities together, and do a bit of traveling while doing it. I’m also considering a pursuing a career in environmental advocacy.


Estes Park CO 1

Please expand on what NPS Academy is, where it’s located, how long you will attend, and any info pertinent to this new phase of your life?
The NPS Academy is an internship program which seeks to reach underrepresented communities and integrate them into the NPS to promote diversity. Orientation for this program was held in two locations Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. Approximately 20 students were selected to attend orientation. The Orientation is a weeklong event. During the orientation we were introduced to all of the major depertments in Grand Teton National Park including: Emergency Medical Services, Interpretation, Wildlife Management, Public Affairs, and Human Resources. Furthermore, once accepted I was assisted by the Student Conservation Association in finding my next summer internship.


Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Goals in Conservation for the future?
In five years I see myself holding a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and most likely continuing my service work with the Peace Corps. If I’m not in the Peace Corps., I’ll most likely be working in a Visitor Services Center within the National Park Service. 


Do you think this position has helped prepare you for your future career?

My experience with ACE has significantly bolstered my resume, and made me more qualified for jobs. Thanks in part to ACE, I currently work as a Facility Supervisor for Loudoun County Parks & Recreation. The experience I have gained from ACE has provided me insight, qualifications and direction for my career aspirations. I was honestly surprised at how many government organizations and nonprofits expressed how they valued my affiliation with AmeriCorps.

What do you feel sets ACE apart from other organizations? How has ACE helped to shape who you are personally and professionally?
What sets ACE aside from other organizations is how they value you. It sounds cheesy, but ACE places a lot of consideration into the lives of each corps. member. If a corps. member is dissatisfied with the projects they’ve been assigned, ACE will be earnest in making accommodations based on performance. Additionally, the majority of crew leaders appear to have been promoted from within. Which means the leadership is familiar with the majority of challenges each crew member might face.
Personally, ACE gave me newfound confidence. With ACE I performed grueling work in a number of outdoor environments. Not only did the work strengthen my determination, but now no task seems impossible. When performing trail work an individual can quickly learn that the majority of difficult problems can be solved by reconsidering your perspective. It’s refreshing to be able to confidently explain in job interviews how you performed with a crew to confront and resolve difficult problems. 


What advice can you offer to future corps members who are looking to get into the conservation field?
To get into the conservation field I’d suggest making a plan, and having direction. Find your dream job and work to acquire its qualifications. I sincerely believe ACE is a great place to get started. You’ll meet your potential employers, and potentially be offered a job. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and do research. Utilize your resources.

Selfie (2)

Corps to Career: Veteran and ACE Alum Dale Thomas

American Conservation Experience is proud to showcase a former AmeriCorps member, Crew Leader, and United States Veteran, Dale Thomas.

Dale has had a long history of service. Not only in serving his community through volunteerism, but also serving his country. For 7 years Dale served with the Arizona Army National Guard, 819th Engineer Company. Joining the National Guard was the way he was going to help pay for his college tuition and do something meaningful with his life.

Dale Thomas serving military

Dale Thomas serving in the military

Serving our country while attending college at Northern Arizona University showed Dale’s dedication not only to the homeland but also to his education. While studying Parks and Recreation Management and Park Protection he was deployed to Afghanistan for a year. School was put on hold while he served.

“Our mission was Route Clearance, where we helped a lot of people by clearing IED’s (improvised explosive devices) from both paved and dirt roads to allow our own NATO forces, Afghan army and police, and local public to safely travel the roads. After this year long adventure, I returned to finish out school.”

After he returned from his deployment in Afghanistan Dale completed a final internship and a Wilderness First Responder course in order to receive his degree. Through NAU Dale found American Conservation Experience. Although Dale would have to travel with ACE, and be away from his wife and family, he decided it would help him meet his goal of working towards improving our natural resources.

Dale in ACE

Dale when serving as a Crew Leader with ACE

“ACE sounded like a really cool opportunity so I went for it. It was definitely worth it! In the beginning of my term I had fairly minimal experience in any of the tasks I performed in ACE. Through the service learning model I was trained in trail design, layout, construction, and maintenance; dry and wet stone masonry; archaeological ruin preservation, fencing construction and repair, and greatly improved my knowledge and skills with a chainsaw. Dry masonry and fencing turned out to be my favorite projects along with sawing. I also made quite a few connections. Once I was a crew leader, I had a lot of contact with different project partners. Many of them gave me their information and offered to be references and even offered some jobs. Which is how I got where I am now. Working for the National Park Service”

Dale spent quite a bit of his time with ACE working at the National Park Service, Flagstaff Area Monuments (Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument, and Wupatki National Monument) and was able to make professional connections with the staff and management at these parks. Securing a position with NPS, Flagstaff Area Monuments, Dale is now a Maintenance Worker at the park. His tasks include working on trails such as the new Lenox Crater Trail at Sunset Crater NM, and doing general maintenance work such as repairing the Walnut Canyon visitor center.

When asked to speak to the next generation of corps members who may be interested in volunteerism and the conservation corps movement, Dale has some great advice:

“Be diligent and keep a good eye out for opportunities. Seek and utilize opportunities for training. These will improve your skill and knowledge base. Practice being calm, cool, and collected and rely upon your training as this is what your mind will revert to in split second decisions. Don’t give up on what you want. Finally, learn and employ techniques of resiliency; don’t let setbacks keep you down. ACE was a great place to do these things and I felt like I was fulfilling those goals of mine.”

We are proud to feature ACE Alumnus, Dale Thomas. We feel honored that ACE played a role in his service-learning experience, and helped him achieve his goal of turning his corps experience into the career of his dreams.

For more information on ACE Alumni
Contact susie@usaconservation.org

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