Each week, SFRC highlights a fantastic student or alumnus for #FeaturedStudentFriday. Today’s alum is Sthefanny Houghton, who earned her BS in Natural Resource Conservation (with a concentration in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences) with SFRC in 2014. Sthefanny now works as an Associate Scientist at Breedlove, Dennis & Associates, Inc., an environmental consulting firm in Winter Park, FL.
What’s the best thing about your current position?
The best thing about my current position is having the opportunity to be outside in the field on some days and in the office other days (which comes in handy with the Florida heat). It is also refreshing to be able to do something different most days, out in the field relocating gopher tortoises one day, doing an avian nest survey in a helicopter the next day, setting hydroperiods in wetlands the following day, and then in the office writing a report the day after that.
Was there any key thing that set you on the path towards SFRC?
The key thing that set me on the path towards SFRC was the mix in classes and possible concentrations within a major. The multi-disciplinary aspect of SFRC was really appealing because at the time I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. Having the ability to choose a major I felt passionate about and then complementing it with courses I also enjoyed was crucial in guiding me to my ultimate career path.
What drives you?
What drives me is trying to make a difference in the world. Whether it is professionally or personally, I always try to make a difference. From enforcing my newly acquired right of voting (I became a U.S. citizen in August of 2018) and motivating millennials to get out and vote, to writing reports at work and analyzing data that will bring a fair outcome to our clients and the environment.
What were your struggles to get where you are today?
The biggest struggle to get to where I am today was getting enough experience in the field in order to qualify for jobs within my degree. Even when I was in school it was hard to take advantage of opportunities that offered great experience because I couldn’t sub lease my apartment for the summer, pay for travel expenses, or couldn’t afford to volunteer at a remote location and still be responsible for paying rent, groceries, bills, etc. As a result, I had to get creative with HOW I got my experience and make the most out of the resources that the University of Florida had to offer. I kept everything local by volunteering at the on-campus shark lab, helping professors with their research in between classes, and working with local organizations around Gainesville in order to build my resume while still being able to have two jobs and pay my bills.
What advice would you give to a younger you?
My advice to a younger me or any student starting out would be to start looking into jobs that interest you as soon as you start your program. Seeing what jobs are available in your field and what qualifications you need to get those jobs will help you identify what steps you need to take in order to get that job once you graduate. For example, if you google jobs in natural resource conservation and you find one you like that requires Geographic Information System (GIS) experience you can ensure that you make room in your schedule to take that GIS course and get yourself that required experience that will qualify you for that position! On that note, even if you have no idea what job you would like to have once you graduate, I would make sure to put yourself out there and get as much experience as possible. Experience is everything for employers, I’m sure you’ve seen the memes out there… “looking for recent grad with 10 years of experience in the field”, as funny as it sounds, it is no joke. As a college student you are exposed to more resources and opportunities, so take advantage of it. Even if you can’t afford to go to Belize for a summer to survey coral reefs or aren’t able to sublease your apartment and make it out to an amazing African safari, don’t let that stop you from finding opportunities that will get you the experience that all employers require! Find local opportunities, help your professors on campus, anything you can do to help build up your resume so you can be ready to apply for jobs as soon as you graduate!
Do you have any favorite memory of your time at SFRC?
My favorite memory of my time in SFRC was the connections I made with my professors. The class sizes were small and all of the professors in SFRC are so approachable that it made it so easy to connect with them. SFRC professors also exceeded my expectations in the sense that they are truly there to help you and make the time to talk to you and give you much needed life and career advice! Specifically, I loved having Dr. Shirley Baker as my undergraduate advisor because she always made time to meet with me, answer any of my questions/concerns, make class recommendations, and provided much appreciated career guidance! Now that I am an alumnus, we are good friends and having that connection with her makes me really happy.
Are you working on anything exciting you’d like to share?
Professionally I am working on a fun project helping to permit a community park that will provide habitat for a lot of species. The park will also be providing the community with educational opportunities through the use of boardwalks and signs about the surrounding ecosystem. As an environmental consultant I get the opportunity to provide the client with data showing what they will need to do to ensure that the ecosystem within the park is enhanced and benefits both the community and the environment.
Personally, I am working on a blog, inyour20somethings.com. This blog provides “adulting” topics for people in their twenties written by people who are also in their twenties but have experience and knowledge in that particular topic. These experts can offer the perspective of a fellow millennial while providing crucial life information in a relatable way. For instance, I have featured accountants in their twenties talking about saving money, lawyers talking about professional advice, and community activists talking about how to get involved in your community. I am very passionate about the opportunity of being able to help make the lives of twenty something year old’s easier in a fun, relatable, and informative way! The topics I cover address life situations we face as adults in the real world and go beyond what we learn in school.