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The youngest interpreter.

I took my first full-time nonformal education position with the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge when I was 24. Before that I had interned with the refuge, volunteered at the San Francisco Zoo, volunteered with a local wildlife hospital, done creek restoration for the county, and served as an assistant naturalist for the city--all at once. I didn't realize how draining a life of part-time jobs was until I started showing up to places in the wrong uniform. I was thankful to finally have a full-time position since it would allow me to set long-term goals and develop my own programs. When I was 25, I took an interpretation position so that I could be more creative with all aspects of the refuge, like developing exhibits for the Environmental Education Center.

I am now 27 and have accomplished a lot, like developing citizen science and volunteer programs. I feel like a seasoned interpreter, but I still strive to learn more. I have inserted myself in many collaborative groups throughout the Bay Area and have attended many conferences like NAI's. In all these groups and conferences I notice one thing: I am the youngest person attending. In many ways this represents the economy in which we live and the lack of full-time positions in interpretation, but it makes me question the value put on young, fulltime interpreters.

I've lost count of the times I've been mistaken for an intern or student. Many people are shocked when I tell them I've been working at the refuge full time for four years--especially the interns at the refuge. I hid my age from everyone I worked with, allowing interns to think that I am an old lady trapped in a young body or that I had discovered the ultimate youth serum. I worried that if they knew how old I was they would lose respect for me. I feared that they would not want me as their supervisor. I also worried my peers would not take me seriously because I did not have as much experience as they did. I constantly felt as though I had to prove myself to everyone, yet, through overcoming these obstacles I realized the true value of my age.

The youth I work with think I'm cool. I look like them and therefore I skip many of the obstacles managers face in connecting with younger interpreters. I get their jokes and have a few of my own. I know what app they're using on their phone because I use it too. I know their tricks because I still pull some of those tricks myself. The volunteers like to ask me what's hip and love my energy. My staff seek my advice and help with technology. I work on projects that help bridge nature and technology and train other groups and organizations on how to do it themselves.

I have learned that an organization or agency needs interpreters of all ages to thrive and stay relevant. Many places have filled the youth void with interns and seasonals, which is a start. But we need to start creating more full-time positions for hard working millennials so that they can make long-term goals and dream big dreams. Being full time has allowed me more focus than any internship or part-time job could. My value to the refuge and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is not solely based on my age but it is based on the opportunities I have been able to create for myself within the agency. I figured out what benefits my age provided and I took them and ran with them. I found my niche and I am no longer afraid to tell people how old I am.

Julie Kahrnoff is an interpretive specialist at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in California.
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Title Annotation:CAREERS
Author:Kahrnoff, Julie
Publication:Legacy Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 2015
Words:638
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