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Individual Placement Spotlight Series: Jesse Wolk

Sunset canoeing

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


My name is Jesse Wolk and I am currently one of two Utility Mapping Specialists serving with Conservation Corps in the Individual Placement Program. One of my goals during my service term this year was to shine a light on the unique positions within the Individual Placement program through a bimonthly Spotlight Series! The Individual Placement program is an excellent way for people of all backgrounds to start their Natural Resources career in Minnesota because each position offers a wide array of opportunities to build skills. This series will include interviews with my cohorts about how they got to their position, what they do in their current role, and how this year fits their overall career trajectory. I not only want to put the spotlight on my fellow corpsmembers but I also want show the non-linear nature of career growth.

This will be threaded through each interview because it can be quite difficult to figure out how to navigate the Natural Resources career field, especially if you have an atypical career or educational background. This has been the case for me over the past few years and I’d really love to show people that if conservation is something you are passionate about but didn’t study it in undergrad or didn’t go to undergrad, there are so many options for you to start your career.

Sunset canoeing
Canoeing with Wilderness Inquiry

I didn’t even realize that I wanted to work in conservation until after I graduated from college in the spring of 2022. During my undergrad, I went to the University of Minnesota Twin Cities where I studied Psychology with minors in Spanish Studies and Biology. Throughout my time, I had been preparing to go to medical school and even did all the hard stuff to get in. Even though it never felt right to me, I still just plowed ahead. The house of cards that I had built my future career on collapsed when became an Outdoor Leader for Wilderness Inquiry, a St. Paul organization dedicated to increasing accessibility in  outdoor spaces to people of all backgrounds and abilities. After a summer of leading trips across the country and teaching people how to camp and canoe, I started to get disenfranchised from my prior plans.

Group photo in forest.
The AmeriCorps team I was on!

Back when I was in my medical school application grindset, I thought it’d be a good idea to take a gap year experience with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps following my summer with Wilderness Inquiry. This ended up being one of the best random decisions of my life. I ended up as the Team Leader for a specialized team that was solely partnered with the Bureau of Land Management in California doing habitat restoration, trail maintenance, and fuels reduction. I only got that position because I had experience guiding. I only got the guiding position because I had some medical experience. I got medical experience for who knows what. With luck and effort, manifestations can come to fruition.

While in California, I fell in love with conservation projects but realized I wanted to do them closer to home. That is when I found the Individual Placement program and knew that it was the perfect fit for my current career goals which were to gain more skills, develop a network, and do more trainings. It wasn’t a smooth transition into this position, I had to substitute teach for a few months, but I eventually ended up where I am now.

A person in a safety helmet and vest using a hand held tool in a forest.
Surveying as a Mapping Specialist.

My position as a Utility Mapping Specialist started in January, and it has already fulfilled that goal. I have learned how to use mapping software programs like ArcGIS, Google Earth, and ArcField Maps to work on a surveying project with the DNR. This hands-on project is done with a partner, but we completely run the show. We have really enjoyed the autonomy that we get within our project. It has been a growth experience in itself to tackle a project this big. I have also already gained so many training opportunities from obtaining the basic qualifications to become a Type 2 Wildland Firefighter to studying to become a Minnesota Master Naturalist to becoming a Minnesota Certified Tree Inspector.

My experience with the Individual Placement program has allowed me to explore potential career paths and has given the opportunities to head down them if I choose. It has fit my needs perfectly.

This blog will attempt to show all the potential experiences to be had within the program, will link resources to other potential programs of interest, and hopefully, will make someone out there less stressed about their career development.

Thanks for reading and the first interview will be published in the same place in a few weeks!

If you have any questions about the blog or any my experiences, feel free to contact me at my email: I’d be happy to talk!