February 19, 2019 - 8:30am
It may take Vancouver Island University (VIU) Biology graduate Annie Hepp a little while to get used to living and working in one of the largest southern United States, where she has landed a position with Texas Parks & Wildlife.
“Living in Texas has definitely changed the way I view long distances and road trips! “We have six regions in Texas State Parks and I cover Central Texas to the Texas Panhandle,” says Hepp. “It takes me about seven hours to drive to my farthest park (Palo Duro Canyon State Park) which is 700 kilometres from my home in Waco. Driving to Tofino from Nanaimo used to feel like it took an eternity.”
After graduating from VIU in 2012, Hepp furthered her education at Simon Fraser University (SFU), where she completed her MSc. in Biology. She picked up work at The Raptors, a bird of prey center in Duncan, for about a year, but she was looking for long-term stability. That and the fact her then fiancé (now husband) was American, she focused her job search in the United States and landed a position with Texas Parks & Wildlife in the summer of 2016. Hepp and her partner loaded up a U-Haul and headed south to start a career doing what she loves.
Why did you choose VIU for your post-secondary studies?
I moved from Vancouver to Nanaimo to attend VIU because I believed the smaller class sizes and one-on-one time with the instructors would give me the best education. I loved every moment of my time at VIU - the beautiful campus, the friends I made with students and faculty, and the amazing support and encouragement I received.
How did your time at VIU influence your career path?
The faculty in the Biology department truly love what they do, and that enthusiasm comes through in the classroom. My teachers always encouraged me to pursue my goals, even when I felt they were out of reach. Their passion for education and sharing their interests with students also helped inspire my career path. With the help and encouragement of my teachers at VIU, I applied to the graduate program at SFU. It was quite a change to go from a small campus to a large university. I often spoke with my VIU teachers during my time at SFU and they continued to offer support and guidance.
What are you doing now?
I work as a Regional Interpretive Specialist for the Texas State Parks division of Texas Parks & Wildlife. I help support the interpretive program in 17 state parks from central Texas to the Texas panhandle. In the field of interpretation we help create connections between our visitors and the natural and cultural resources of a site. We also teach people how to appreciate and care for our public lands. I deliver training, assist parks with special events, write content for trail maps and park guides, and much more. I love working in a field where I get to help share my love for nature and the outdoors with others. The only thing I dislike about Texas is the summer heat - it can reach +45 Celsius!
Can you share one interesting thing you have done in your job?
Texas Longhorn cattle are part of the Texas heritage. Texas Parks & Wildlife maintains a large herd of longhorns to help preserve the history and traditions of Texas, and part of the herd lives at Copper Breaks State Park. Most of the time the herd ranges at the back of the park property, but they always come up for the afternoon feeding. A park ranger hands out pellets for visitors to feed the Longhorns while they learn about the significance of these cattle in Texas. If you’re brave you can kiss a Longhorn, which I have actually done, but be prepared for a very slobbery and muddy kiss!
Did you ever imagine this is what you would end up doing?
No! I thought I would end up in the field of interpretation because I love helping to connect people to the natural world but I never thought I would end up in Texas. It’s still a bit surreal sometimes. I’ve even seen a horse tied up outside of a Walmart once! But I love it here and even though I never imagined a life in Texas, I can’t imagine life anywhere else now.
How are you staying connected with your VIU family?
I keep in touch with many of my VIU instructors. I visit them when I return to the Island, and some even attended my wedding in 2016.
What advice would you give new VIU grads?
My advice for new graduates is to value your time at VIU and make the most of the amazing opportunities that are available to you. After going through the graduate program at SFU, I saw firsthand how little time the faculty have for their undergrad students. Spend time getting to know your teachers, ask them about opportunities for work and research. Visit their office if you have questions – in my case, I know they were always happy to talk. And don’t be afraid to find your dream job, even if it is far away! I never thought I could live anywhere else than Vancouver Island. I love the mountains, ocean and forests. When the opportunity to work in Texas came up I really struggled with leaving behind my friends, family and island-life. The first year was hard and I was homesick a lot, but I have fallen in love with Texas. It is so different from anything I've ever known. The people of Texas are some of the nicest folks you will ever meet. My TPWD co-workers still tease me about being Canadian (only because they are jealous), but they have welcomed me and helped Texas feel like home.