By Kim Scotto-Kelley
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Lara Milligan attended her first Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals (ANREP) Conference in 2012 shortly after she began her position as natural resources agent for UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County.
The connection she felt to her fellow members across the country prompted her to run for the southern regional representative position and serve as chair of the professional development committee. And most recently, Milligan became the national organization’s youngest-ever president-elect in January.
Milligan, a two-time University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences graduate, earned her bachelor’s in natural resource conservation and her master’s in forest resources and conservation. She had initially started her college experience majoring in wildlife ecology and conservation, but after taking the “Forest for the Future” class as an elective, she realized she was interested in the bigger picture of how all systems interact and fit together.
Students in the natural resource conservation major can take many different career paths after graduation, from consulting and fieldwork, to research and environmental education.
“Opportunities provided by the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation (SFRC) were really rewarding and taught me techniques to make learning fun,” Milligan said. “I knew I wanted to do environmental education, but wasn’t sure where. I spent some time working as a substitute teacher and worked at a nonprofit organization, but when I saw the posting for my current job in Extension, I thought to myself, ‘This is my dream job!’”
Now, as the natural resources agent for UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County, her work focuses on wildlife, water and general environmental education.
“I like that we work to communicate our message in so many different ways – from videos, to blogs, to traditional face-to-face classes,” Milligan said. “I want to convey that the environment supports everything we do. If I can make one person realize that and have that ‘aha’ moment, then it’s worth it.”
She also said she loves getting to work with many of her former professors, like Martha Monroe, Taylor Stein and Michael Andreu. “SFRC has been instrumental in providing me with the skills and network to succeed in my job today,” Milligan said.
A Florida native, Milligan has often found that her familiarity with the state can help her connect with the communities she serves.
“People are often surprised to learn that I’m from Florida,” Milligan said. “I was born and raised in Jupiter, and had the good fortune to attend the Jupiter Environmental Research and Field Studies Academy. I was inspired daily by my teachers there, especially Mr. Phil Weinrich.”
Milligan said she tries to make her former teachers proud. Over the past few years, she has received accolades from numerous organizations, including the 2017 Project Learning Tree Teacher of the Year Award and the 2018 Early Career Award from ANREP. She was first trained in Project Learning Tree, a national environmental education program, as a student.
“I really love that, in Extension, we are always being challenged as professionals,” Milligan said. “There is always a new bar to reach.”
Now, Milligan is looking forward to growing into her new position with ANREP. She already has familiarity with the board, after serving as professional development committee chair from 2014-2017 and as the southern regional representative from 2014-2016.
“Seeing how the board functions from the inside made me even more appreciative of what ANREP does,” Milligan said. “It’s a group of committed individuals who are volunteering to run a national non-profit to support natural resource Extension professionals throughout the country on top of their full-time jobs. Not everyone is willing to do that.”
Milligan will spend the next year working closely with the current ANREP president, before taking on the mantle in 2020.
“I already know it will be hard, but I love to learn and I love a challenge,” Milligan said, “so bring it on.”
By: Kim Scotto-Kelley, (352) 294-7018, email@example.com
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media.