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Exit Interview: Cory Gillis

Cory Gillis is a recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree in WEC. Here’s his perspective on his time here.

How did you like your time at WEC?

I loved it. There’s no other major I’d rather have done. Those in the WEC major become sort of a second family to each other since for many classes we go hiking or camping for a few days.

I’ve met another student who transferred into WEC from studying to be a physician. He said that major was “cutthroat”, students don’t help each other with questions or talk about internship and career opportunities. Once he switched to wildlife, he loved it.

We all hang out after class or on the weekends and enjoy identifying creatures we haven’t seen before. We all share our experiences and discover opportunities with one another. This major seems to be more of a culture of life, sort of like surfing.

I once was surrounded by people who thought very little about the environment, even though it provides everything we need to survive and much more. Now I know many people with different interests and specialties that I can ask for assistance when someone asks me a biological question that I’m uncertain to answer or if I’m beginning a project with a certain species.

Now that I’m applying to jobs, I’ve found that guest speakers for some of my classes are the ones hiring, people I’ve run into at small functions are the biologists studying things that I’d like to work with, and people I’ve met during internships are now working with other agencies that need assistance. Basically, everyone seems to know each other.

What are you doing after graduation?

Currently I am working as a field technician at UF’s Natural Area Teaching Lab (NATL), will be a T.A. for Forest Inventory/Mensuration during Spring Semester, and am also applying to seasonal jobs in the Pacific Northwest. I hope to basically get paid to travel, experience new environments, climates, people, and animals!

What are your long-term goals?

My long term goals are semi-vague at the moment, with some specifications. I would like to conserve nature for current and future generations to use and enjoy. As long as I am working in conservation and can be outdoors for part of my job, I will be happy!

How has your education at WEC helped prepare you for that?

I use to watch Steve Irwin (The Crocodile Hunter) on TV and think about how cool all the things he did were. I wanted to have adventures like that all the time but being young, I thought he was born into that kind of life and it wasn’t in the cards for me.

I grew up in the suburbs near the city and would go camping with my family only once a year. That was about all the nature adventures I had until I discovered WEC. Throughout my degree I have had four internships, left the country for my first time, and volunteered for many wildlife projects. People are now surprised when I tell them I grew up in the city. This major has opened my future to be what I always wanted but never thought it could be. People now watch my Facebook page to see what adventures I have gotten into lately and tell me things that I would have said to Steve Irwin.

What do you do for fun?

I still enjoy my city-life roots; I enjoy drinking beers with friends and family, watching Netflix, seeing movies, and aggressive inline skating, but I also very much enjoy hiking, bird watching, photography, bike riding, camping, making art out of natural things I’ve found, and travelling to new places. I found that I most enjoy having something mentally and physically challenging, so working outdoors on various projects is the hobby that takes most of my time. It’s amazing because I now get paid to do it!

What is the coolest experience you had as a part of the WEC program?

I can’t quite choose between two events because during both, I had an overwhelming feeling of peace, accomplishment, wonder, beauty, and just a general sense of this is what I’m meant to be doing in life…

One of these experiences was being in a different country for my first time. I took Dr. Bill Giuliano’s Field Methods in Belize course. We practiced shooting tranquilizer darts, using gps, radio telemetry, camera trapped jaguars, went on night hikes through caves, saw wild scarlet macaws and toucans, and much more. I use to work with macaws in an exotic pet shop, so I have only seen them in cages or handled by people. Standing with like-minded environmentalists on a rock in the middle of a stream, hearing waterfalls around, with a view of scarlet macaws free in the rainforest canopy, with the river streaming down through it brought about an overwhelming feeling of bliss. My mind was filled with ecology, the unity of all things. Plants exhale what we breathe and inhale what we exhale. We eat them and animals to grow, and they eat us for the same. The unity of all things overwhelms me, I yearn to understand it more and am very glad that I have the chance to be a part of it all.

The second occasion was with the student chapter of The Wildlife Society. Once every spring semester, four of us are allowed to assist USGS with manatee health assessments at Three Sister’s Springs. The first manatee I helped pull out of the water was a male that ended up being around 1,400lbs! Just after sliding it onto land and laying on its back with others helping me keep it calm, I caught that feeling again, the one of awe, like a conglomeration of many emotions in one. This feeling reinforces in me the knowledge that helping these creatures thrive, in the face of many human activities that threaten their existence, is what I’m meant to do on this planet. After-all, without them (other life on this planet), there would be no us.

What is your favorite animal you’ve worked with?

Many people ask me this. I enjoy working outdoors with many different creatures and find it difficult to choose any to be my favorite. The truth is, humans are my favorite animal. Without them, my life would be meaningless. I thrive on the energy of others and very much enjoy their company.

A close second would be large cats, I had the great pleasure of being bitten by a Florida Panther! She was only a few weeks old and I fell in love. Since then, I have seen friends post photos of adult panthers in zoos that they volunteer with and I finally understand how “crazy cat people” feel.

Anything else you want to say?

“If we all did a little than a lot will be done” -Mishka