The Strong Interest Inventory® (SII) was originally released in the early 1900s as a tool to support job seekers in finding fulfilling careers. It first uses a survey-style assessment to analyze an individual’s vocational preferences and proclivities. It then compares the individual’s responses to a database containing survey responses from tens of thousands of professionals already employed in a broad range of different careers. Based on this comparison, the Strong Interest Inventory Assessment guides job seekers to specific professions in addition to one or more of several career categories (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional), each containing careers that share certain characteristics. For instance, Social occupations generally involve mentoring others, teaching them, or watching them develop an interest in a new field. Park Naturalists are one example of a Social career.
Park Naturalists, sometimes called Environmental Educators or Park Activities Coordinators, are typically employed by local, state, or national parks. They are charged with planning, developing, and conducting programs to educate or inform the public of their surroundings’ natural, historical, or scientific features. For instance, a Park Naturalist in Grand Canyon National Park might be responsible for giving guided walks or tours along the canyon rim and discussing the canyon’s formation and geological features. On the other hand, a Park Naturalist in a historical park in Virginia might focus more on the area’s colonial and political history. Park Naturalists may also design other programs, such as illustrated lectures, field trips, public performances, interpretive skits, or alternative ways of engaging the public with the park. Some Park Naturalists work with the local school or university systems to coordinate field trips, develop environmental education programs, or consult on curricula related to the park’s offerings and amenities.
Some Park Naturalists may also have some research or design responsibilities. For example, they may need to research their area’s natural history or local flora and fauna or interview specialists or researchers to gather data for park programs. They may refine their research for museum-style presentations, such as self-led audio tours, visitor center displays, brochures, newspaper articles, and more. These resources can be made available for park guests to enjoy and learn without direct, synchronous guidance from an expert, making them ideal resources for parks with a large geographical area or with a significant number of visitors. Park Naturalists often work in the visitor services center, which means they may need to explain regulations, answer questions, manage visitor complaints, or provide general information about the park, such as closing times, amenities, activities, and more.
In some cases, they may need to provide basic maintenance on park structures and even offer emergency services, such as first aid or CPR, or facilitate an evacuation in collaboration with local police or fire rescue. As with many Social careers, the specific responsibilities of a given role may vary depending on the organization’s needs and the employee’s abilities. In addition to standard office and publishing software (e.g., Microsoft Office Suite, web browsers, e-mail software, Adobe Systems, Adobe Acrobat Reader), Park Naturalists should also be familiar with mapping and basic web platform development software such as Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP). Park Naturalists should also be confident communicators in written and spoken English who are comfortable interfacing with others in person and remotely daily. This expertise is most often developed during a college education, with 95% of Park Naturalist positions requiring a Bachelor’s degree and 5% requiring a Master’s degree.
In the United States, the median salary for Park Naturalists is $30.65 hourly, which comes to an annual salary of $63,750. The wages for Park Naturalists vary depending on location and the importance of state and natural parks to the local economy. Park Naturalists in Alaska have a median salary of $81,690, while the top 10% of earners in Alaska earn well over $130,000 annually. At the lower extreme, Park Naturalists in Florida have a median salary under $50,000, with the bottom 10% of earners bringing in closer to $30,000 per year. States like Arizona, Virginia, and North and South Dakota are closer to the national average, with mean salaries near $60,000. Current and future employment statistics are also important when making career decisions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently 25,300 Park Naturalists employed in the United States, and this number is expected to grow by 5%-10% in the next decade.
Below are some employment trends for Park Naturalists:
- Median Salary: $63,759 annually
- Employment: 25,300 employees
- Projected growth (2020-2030): Average (5%-10%)
- Projected job openings (2020-2030): 2,500
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- Bureau of Labor Statistics wage data and 2012-2022 employment projections Onetonline.org