In our 3rd installment of #IamACE we are excited to feature one of our California-based Assistant Crew Leaders, Mark Gestwicki. Mark’s journey within ACE is common: a transition from Corpsmember into an Assistant Crew Leader. Mark’s work ethic and leadership skills are a true asset to our California crew program, and we are happy to showcase his story here.
[ACE] What is your background?
[MG] I grew up in Western New York. I went to the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry where I earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Conservation Biology. After graduation, I served for 2 years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, Africa where it was my responsibility to introduce sustainable farming practices to a rural village. My goal was to implement community-based projects that would ultimately lead to a permanent increase in standard of living.
What motivated or inspired you to be in conservation?
My Field Biology teacher in High School was very influential and inspired me to pursue a career in environmental conservation. Together we formed the Dunkirk Outdoor Adventure Group which takes students out rafting, backpacking, and caving. He is still a good friend and I visit him whenever I’m back in New York.
How did you discover ACE?
I found ACE on a conservation job board.
What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE Corpsmember?
I enjoyed having the opportunity to spend time in some of the most beautiful parts of California. Not many jobs other than ACE offer the opportunity to spend a month in the backcountry of Sequoia National Park.
How did you transition into an Assistant Crew Leader?
It seemed like the logical next step after my initial 6-month AmeriCorps term. I wanted to take on more responsibilities at work.
What has been your favorite project and why?
My favorite hitch was probably an invasive removal project in Sequoia National Park. We were about 20 miles in the backcountry for a month. I would spend hours’ trout fishing after work and on the weekends. We hardly saw anyone out there.
What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at ACE?
I think that ACE is socially challenging. There are constantly new faces and it can be exhausting meeting new people all of the time.
What are your future goals?
I want to expand my knowledge and skills related to international development, sustainable agriculture, and natural resource management. I’m applying to graduate schools now and looking at creative ways to use my AmeriCorps Education Award. Ultimately, I want to manage conservation projects with an international NGO or nonprofit.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
It is my intention to continue pursuing a career in conservation.
Do you think this position has helped prepare you for your future career?
Yes! It’s been interesting to be a part of the “on the ground” conservation projects. I’ve been able to work closely with the major governmental land management organizations and witness which projects are given priority and how they are implemented. I’ve also gained valuable skills in environmental restoration, leadership, and problem solving.
What advice can you offer to future corps members who are looking to get into the conservation field?
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget why you want to protect natural areas in the first place. Take some time to go for a hike, sit by a stream, or climb a tree.