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Individual Placement Spotlight Series: Becca Luebke

A person feeding alarge paper chart into a scanner.

By Jesse Wolk, Utility Mapping Specialist Individual Placement / AmeriCorps Member placed at Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Trails

 

The Individual Placement (I.P.) Spotlight Blog is a series of interviews between Jesse Wolk and his cohort with the goal of highlighting the unique positions and interesting backgrounds of the corpsmembers within the I.P. program. In the third edition of the series, the spotlight is shifted to our Archival Geographical Information System (GIS) Specialist – Becca Luebke!

 

When young Americans begin their careers, we hear hundreds of variations on the same two philosophies. The first encourages us to pursue our dreams and passions. “Follow your heart and the rest will sort itself out,” proclaims our Prius-driving high school art teacher. At the same time, our golf-happy uncle instructs pragmatism. “Find a job that is stable and endure it,” he states. At our beginnings, these messages have tremendous impact on us. Especially for those that go to college, where picking a major seems to reflect a person’s initial stance on this spectrum. On one side you have those heading into fields like Computer Science or Engineering, choosing stability, and on the other, those studying Music and Art, chasing their passions. At the beginning, we all throw ourselves somewhere on this spectrum and then, as we mature, swing one way or another depending on our satisfaction and financial situation.

At Becca Luebke’s beginning, she chose stability. She saw how a lot of her friends who chose humanities, or even STEM majors, had to go to graduate school to get a step up in the competitive job market. Her other friends, who studied finance or business, seemed to land great jobs right out of the gate. That was what she wanted. Stability. So, she majored in Finance but still blended some passion in there by minoring in English at Cornell College. Becca graduated in the spring of 2023, and after a tax internship and a data entry position, she realized she didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk every single day. More importantly, she realized that she wanted to have more impact than managing someone’s money. When she heard from a friend that did the Youth Outdoors Program in Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa (CCMI), she started exploring more options within the program. Eventually, the Individual Placement program resonated most strongly with Becca because she thought it would be more impactful than her current position as a bartender and would also give her time for personal growth.

Becca applied to a smattering of opportunities within the Individual Placement program and felt  that, “all of them [were] out of her wheelhouse.” That apparently wasn’t true, as Becca started her position as the Archival GIS Specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at its oldest state park, Itasca, in January. In her current position, Becca’s role is to consolidate all the blueprints, plans, and maps for anything in the park. Literally anything. From vegetation maps to trail designs to building plans. As Becca told me, “If it says Itasca,” she is going to scan and sort it. Using Excel and ArcGIS Pro, Becca has been contributing to a database that will allow park staff to find documents that they need quickly. The demand for this database is wide throughout the park, from naturalists who need new material to develop programming, to maintenance staff who simply just want to find design plans. Her work has even helped the kitchen staff at the Douglas Lodge Restaurant. She digitized their cookbook and now they can easily access the recipes they are looking for.

A digital version of an old map of Lake Itasca and surrounding area in Itasca State Park
A snippet of one of the maps Becca has been working on from 1926. Note the presence of Elk Lake. The last captive-free herd of Elk disappeared from Minnesota in 1932 but have since been reintroduced in small numbers. Many tribal, state, and federal organizations around Minnesota are interested in increasing Elk range throughout MN.

Unlike last edition’s interviewee, Eric Kenney, understanding how Becca’s position contributes to conserving Minnesota’s outdoor spaces is a tad more complicated. While Eric is working directly with partners to prevent invasive species spread, Becca is working with park staff to enrich their educational programming and make their maintenance projects more efficient. In turn, that will allow for more projects and programs to be completed with the same tax-payer budget. This can then justify to state legislation to increase funding for more conservation projects because of their increased output. Agencies like the DNR, are wholistic. All projects, hopefully, work together to contribute to the same mission, to protect Minnesota’s state lands for future generations to enjoy.

The abstract nature of the position has led to a unique experience for Becca. Her position overlaps with almost all the positions at the park and her supervisors are in park management positions. This has made it easy to for her to get a grasp of the all the moving parts, which has been ideal for someone from non-Natural Resources background to. To me, this is one of the key benefits of the I.P. program. Unlike some other Conservation Corps opportunities, you are always in constant communication with natural resource professionals. You quickly learn what their jobs are like, what jobs you could like, and which ones you’d never want to work. Perks aside, Becca does note that her project is so huge that it feels like, “she is chipping away at a mountain.” However, she contrasts this with the joy of watching the mountain get smaller with the hope of it being finally turned into a mole hill by the CCMI members who finish the project after her.

A person feeding alarge paper chart into a scanner.
Becca busy at work scanning documents for the digital database. Now that many agencies have transferred to a digital format, many projects like Becca’s are needed to transfer old documents to a digital system with an organized file structure.

As I ended my conversation with Becca, it has become clear to me that she is continuing to explore where she currently fits on the spectrum between passion and stability. She is clearly taking big steps to discover herself and it seems like she wants to keep on doing that. After her term is over, her ideal position would be one that she where she can build up a knowledge base in something that she can pass on to the public. She hopes to gain this in more experiences like in field work with CCMI and other conservation corps, or looking at seasonal positions with other agencies and organizations.

Becca is keeping the future in mind but right now is focused on the present. She has a countdown clock right now to remind herself of how many days she has left. Her goals: Get into the field and do some mapping, learn how to fish, and go camping. As she noted, “There will always be a desk job if you need it.” Might as well get out and explore a bit!

 

Thanks for reading and catch you in a few weeks!

–  Jesse