Park Break: A unique learning fellowship for graduate students contemplating a career working in parks, protected areas, or cultural sites
Learn what it's like to manage a national park in a national park
Park Break is an all-expenses-paid, park-based field seminar for graduate students who are thinking about a career in park management or park-related research and education. Park Break puts you in a national park unit for up to a week's worth of field and classroom activities in close collaboration with park scientists and scholars, managers and administrators, and partner organizations.
(posted March 2013) — Federal budget cuts put Park Break on hold for 2013. The across-the-board budget cuts to US federal government agencies have forced us to put the Park Break program on hold for this year. We had planned for at least two Park Break sessions this May, but unfortunately our sponsoring agencies have had to suspend support for the program for the time being. We hope to get the program back up and running in the near future. Watch this space for further developments.
MOST RECENT PARK BREAK SESSION FOCUSED ON CULTURAL RESOURCES IN A DIVERSE URBAN SETTING
The week of October 15, 2012, found Park Break in Boston studying cultural resource management in an urban setting. It was a ground-breaking session, devoted solely to issues challenging managers of historic sites and related places, especially with regard to diversity in NPS working ranks and the people who visit these areas.
Three local parks were the focus of the week’s work: Boston African American National Historic Site, Boston National Historical Park, and Lowell National Historical Park. Engagement centered on the topics of making NPS sites more relevant to diverse communities and ways to attract diverse audiences to national park sites. All aspects of cultural resource management were involved – museum services, building preservation, interpretation, cultural landscapes, planning, compliance, and preservation outreach to communities and partners.
Topics included the evolution of how historic parks and sites are chosen for designation and today’s emphasis on selecting sites that better reflect the diversity of our shared heritage, making collections and exhibitry more relevant to diverse audiences, and partnering with diverse community groups to increase our capacity in telling America’s story.
Find out what it's like to manage a national park
The primary goal of Park Break is to let promising graduate students experience the challenges of managing a national park unit. Through instruction from and dialogue with park resource managers, researchers, administrators, interpreters, and other professionals, Park Break participants will begin to understand the complexity of park research and management. This unique program is not offered anywhere else, as it focuses on scientific and intellectual inquiry at the graduate level specifically related to national parks. Although Park Break is open to graduate students of all backgrounds, an additional goal of the program is to provide minority students with experience in national parks in order to facilitate future careers in the field of parks and protected areas research and management.
Graduate students (Ph.D. or Master’s level) who are studying in fields related to parks, protected areas, and cultural sites. To be eligible, you must fall into one of the following categories:
- Have completed undergraduate degree and have been accepted into Master's program
- Current Master's degree candidate
- Have completed Master's degree and have been accepted into PhD program
- Current PhD degree candidate (including ABDs)
Some examples of eligible majors include: natural resources, ecotourism, civic engagement, conservation, and cultural heritage. Examples of eligible fields of study include conservation biology, ecotourism, wildlife and fisheries, conservation policy, civic engagement, youth and development, recreation and parks, natural resource management, cultural resource management, landscape architecture, history, historic preservation, geography, archaeology, ethnography, museum studies, etc. If your major does not direcly relate to parks, protected areas, and cultural sites, contact us for advice as to whether you might be eligible for consideration.
Students must be currently enrolled at an institute of higher education in either the USA, Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean and actively pursuing a degree. We regret that we cannot accept applications from students elsewhere.
What happens during the week?
Each Park Break is designed around a specific topic. Not only will you explore that topic in depth, you'll see how it relates to the whole range of challenging issues facing park managers today.
A typical Park Break includes:
- Presentations by several top-level personnel at the park, such as the superintendent, assistant superintendent, division chiefs, resource managers, staff subject-matter experts (e.g., biologists, historians, etc.).
- Presentations by outside scientists/scholars who are currently working in the park.
- Presentations by local NGOs, elected officials, personnel from other parks, etc., who are working with the host park or on issues similar to those facing the host park.
- One or more field sessions in the park that illustrate the theme and issues being discussed.
- An excursion into the surrounding community to discuss relevant issues.
In addition, many Park Break participants collaborate to share their experiences by writing a paper for our Park Break Perspectives Series.
What's expected of me?
Park Break is not just about a week in a park — it's intended to create an ongoing community of motivated young professionals. Aside from following the curriculum and activities outlined above, Park Break students are expected to read a packet of background materials before their arrival. Once in-park, you may be assigned a real-life management problem to contemplate during the week, and asked to prepare, as a team, a presentation on proposed solutions that you will offer to the park's staff for discussion and feedback.
Many students who participate in the program document their experiences as part of the GWS's Park Break Perspectives series, an online collection of papers that captures some of the challenges and rewards of the Park Break program.
Park Break puts you on the path to success
While Park Break is not an employment or internship program, you will be involved with agency personnel who are actively looking to recruit the best young people in the park professions. Several Park Breakers have been hired by the National Park Service and one by the U.S. Forest Service. Other Park Break alums have embarked on Ph.D. programs. Park Break makes you and your skills visible!
In addition, Park Break students receive preference for travel scholarships to attend the following George Wright Society Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites — the USA's premier inetrdisciplinary professional meeting in the field.
2012 spring Park Break site and topic
The most recent Park Break session was held March 19–23 in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The topic was the creation of a curriculum on sustainable living to be used at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC). National parks, such as DWGNRA, are often at the center of the resource use equation when examining sustainable living issues. Food, water, energy and shelter requirements intersect and often conflict with land conservation priorities. Today, DWGNRA and the Delaware River confront new challenges from Marcellus Shale drilling to the north (which has the potential to affect water quality), new transmission lines which may bisect the park, as well as the encroachment of the New York and New Jersey suburban housing sprawl at the fringes of the park.
The Park Break Group Project Topic was to create a curriculum on sustainable living that will target 8th-graders and focus on the resource choices and tradeoffs we need to make as a society. In keeping with PEEC’s interactive approach to teaching in a national park, the curriculum needed to consist of meaningful hands-on activities that reinforce the lessons of sustainability strategies and lifestyle compromises necessary to maintain the planet for the next generation.
The Park Break team was responsible for creating the content for two 1½-hour classes to be taught at PEEC by our environmental education instructors. They included background information, Q&A dialogue prompts for instructors, a selection of four hands-on activity related student projects/ tasks to be completed by students during a class, as well as follow-on activities to be complete by students and their teachers back at school.
Do I have to cover any costs?
Park Break is a fellowship, so all your direct costs — travel to and from the park, lodging and meals while in the park, and any required materials — are paid for. You are responsible for any non-essential, discretionary expenses you may incur. You also will need to supply common field gear that may be desirable for the session, such as backpacks, binoculars, cameras, foul-weather clothing, and so on.
Who are the organizers?
Park Break is organized by the National Park Service (through the host parks) and the U.S. Geological Survey in concert with the George Wright Society, the USA's leading professional association for researchers, resource managers, administrators, educators, and other professionals who work in or on behalf of parks, protected areas, and cultural sites. GWS puts on Park Break in cooperation with several partners. Past partners have included Colorado State University, Geological Society of America, Student Conservation Association, and Texas A&M University.
Sounds great! How do I apply?
When the Park Break program resumes an online application will be available here.