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Individual Placement Spotlight Series: Eric Kenney

Two people holding a pelt

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 (IP) Spotlight Blog series highlights the unique positions and people within the IP program. In this edition, the spotlight is shown on our Aquatic Invasive Species Communications Specialist – Eric Kenney! The essay below captures the interview that Eric and I had and transposes it into a narrative format.


A person in a canyon
Eric’s trip to Zion National Park, Utah

I have never been to Deerfield, Illinois. I know it is part of Chicagoland which, according to Eric Kenney, comprises most of the town’s identity. When I asked Eric where he was from, the first thing he noted about Deerfield was that there is not much nature around Deerfield. Natural spaces were simply not a part of his life growing up. That all changed when, for college, he moved to Minnesota and started exploring the amazing natural places this state has to offer. Spending time around places like the North Shore or Interstate State Park resonated with Eric, and he began to see the significance of recreating outdoors. A defining moment for Eric was when he took a road trip to some of Utah’s national parks with his friends. There, where he had ample time to reflect in beautiful landscapes, he realized the importance of our nation’s natural heritage and the value of protecting it. Through that trip, and the moments he had spent in Minnesota’s parks, he began to understand that his love for the outdoors might just be strong enough to pursue a career in the natural resources.

A bird in the sky
Taylor’s Falls, MN

Unfortunately, Eric was already near the end of his undergraduate degree when he realized this. After spending much of college “grasping at what he wanted to do,” Eric graduated in May of 2023 with two degrees: A Bachelor of Individualized Studies in Political Science, Management, and Strategic Communications, and a degree of uncertainty about what to do next. So, he did what anyone else would do, he started applying to jobs. Eric has no idea how many jobs he applied to but does remember he didn’t have much luck finding something in the natural resources industry without an environmental sciences background. At some point, he started to run out of options for new jobs to apply to. Eventually, however, he stumbled upon the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Communications Specialist position with the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa (CCMI). Eric thought he could use his communications background to succeed in the position, while simultaneously allowing him to see if the natural resources world was a good fit for him.

Now four months into his term, Eric confidently states that he likes it! Eric serves in the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) central office in Saint Paul. His role is with the DNR’s Division of Ecological and Water ResourcesAquatic Invasive Species program. His position involves many different projects including revising the Aquatic Invasive Species’ website, drafting social media content, and promoting AIS messaging statewide. Eric was excited to share his latest project with me which was to communicate with 18 county partners to get AIS outreach materials to approximately 89 bait shops around the state.

Aquatic Invasive Species (like zebra mussels and non-native phragmites) are taking a huge toll on water ecosystems around the Great Lakes States. Minnesota is no exception to this reality and their impact on our ecosystems, recreation, and economy are profound. Human activity contributes to the majority of AIS spread. While this is a sad reality, it also means that AIS spread can be slowed by humans. According to a survey of Minnesota’s anglers, 94% of them agree that preventing the spread of AIS is the right thing to, however, not all of them have the knowledge of certain best practices. The impact Eric is having to bring this knowledge to Minnesota’s water recreationists through AIS messaging and education is tangible, and he feels its weight. He has enjoyed feeling like he is making a difference through his position, something he might not have felt if he pursued a career elsewhere. As many people that work in conservation know, the feeling of making an impact is why they stay.

Two people holding a pelt
Eric and another IP member exploring a beaver pelt

So far, Eric has really enjoyed the project management aspect of his service term. Additionally, he is learning how to take initiative and advocate for himself. Eric says while this has been the most challenging aspect of his service, it is where he’s gained the most confidence. It’s a hard thing, knowing when to push forward an idea and when to let something simmer. Eric notes getting this balance right has allowed him to find his professional voice.

Eric has also dived into the training opportunities that CCMI offers. He took an AIS Management course that gave him important context to succeed in his position. He is also planning on going to the Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference in Duluth, taking a DNR Prairie Species Identification course in Western Minnesota, and attending the Bdote: Learning from Place Workshop.

While it is unclear where Eric is headed next, he is excited for his future. He told me that he might be interested in getting a position focused on field work next and may eventually pursue graduate school. Like many of us in the program right now, we aren’t thinking too much about the next step, and instead are trying to focus on making the most of our current term. Regardless, one thing is clear: He wants to work in natural resources.

He might want to hang onto that first degree, but I think he can now throw the degree of uncertainty out the window.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

The Individual Placement Spotlight Series is written by Jesse Wolk. Please contact Jesse at if you would like to contact him or any of his fellow members featured in the blog.