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Where Are They Now? Alumni Highlight: Jaleesa Houle

A person smiling in front of a mountain lake.

Jaleesa served as the Mississippi Field Crew Leader in Central Minnesota in 2019. Since then, she has lived and worked in Australia, returned to the United States to start graduate school, and has recently been awarded a fellowship. She attributes her time at the Corps as one of the reasons she was accepted into this fellowship! Congratulations Jaleesa!


What kind of work did you do when you were in the Corps?

Invasive species removal, tree felling, prescribed burns, lake bank stabilization, native species planting, rain garden installation, community outreach

Were there any particularly memorable or challenging experiences during your time in the Corps?

As any Corpsmember knows, a service term is not an easy commitment. The days are long, the work is physically demanding, and the weather isn’t always stellar. Even so, I found my year of service to be incredibly valuable. I learned a lot of lessons in effective team building and communication. My crew and I were able to collaborate with a variety of local, state, and federal employees – essentially “sampling” various positions available within the field of natural resource conservation. These assignments really helped to narrow down my educational and professional interests, and encouraged me to pursue higher education.

What was the most personally meaningful part of your experience with Conservation Corps?

I felt that this program was heavily invested in the well-being of Corpsmembers, which made space for discussing our own long term personal development and career goals. Though the work could be challenging at times, being surrounded with other great people made it worth it. The various friendships I made during my service term have been invaluable.
a person in firefighting gear with the Corps logo on their helmet smiles from the seat of an ATV.
[Image Description] Jaleesa in firefighting gear with the Corps logo on her helmet smiles from the seat of an ATV.

How did the experience shape your career/life?

Leaving the Corps with an education award provided a strong push for me to return to school. By the time I started taking classes again, it had been 5 years since I finished my Bachelor’s degree. If it weren’t for my year with Conservation Corps, I’m not sure sure that I would have thought to pursue a graduate degree in engineering, let alone return to school at all.

What advice would you offer to a current member serving in Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa?

Stick with it! I know there are a lot of hard days sprinkled into a year of service. Remember that although what we accomplish on a daily basis might feel small, the overall picture is that Conservation Corps members are working together to collectively preserve our native spaces. Be proud of the role you get to play!

What did you do immediately after your time in the Corps?

Immediately after the Corps, I moved to Australia under a working holiday visa. I stayed there through a good portion of the pandemic before returning to the US and moving to Reno to pursue my degree.

Where are you now?

I am currently a graduate student in the Mechanical Engineering department at University of Nevada, Reno.

What do you do there?

I am currently working as a graduate researcher investigating how insects track odor plumes in natural environments via a combination of wind tunnel experiments and field studies. My goal is to pair my passion for ecology with engineering and contribute to bioinspired innovations.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRF). This is an award that covers the cost of educational expenses and provides 3 years of stipend money ($37k/yr) to graduate students pursuing STEM research. A big part of my application was detailing the work I had done with Conservation Corps, and describing how my service term shaped my educational goals. When assessing applications, one of the main criteria that reviewers emphasize is Broader Impacts. Summarized directly on the NSF website: “the Broader Impacts criterion encompasses the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.”

As you might imagine, a service term with Conservation Corps is a great example of Broader Impacts. My service with CCMI was mentioned multiple times in the feedback I received from reviewers. I was not aware of the NSF GRFP when I was in CCMI, but it is an incredible opportunity and I encourage current members and alumni who wish to pursue grad school to apply! For those who are interested, but don’t know where to start, please feel free to reach out. I’m so grateful for the ways CCMI has helped me grow as an individual, and hope to be able to pass on this gratitude by helping fellow Corpsmembers.


If you want to contact Jaleesa to ask about her experience with the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, you can email her at jaleesa.houle@gmail.com

Thank you for sharing your story Jaleesa!

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