After her first two years at the Rocky Mountain Field Institute — dealing with the worst natural disasters this region has seen — Amber Shanklin now finds herself as RMFI’s acting executive director. Hired as program coordinator in 2012, the 32-year-old Wisconsin native has come to know the Colorado Springs landscape intimately through her conservation and restoration work for the nonprofit. Until a replacement for former Executive Director Rebecca Jewett takes over, Shanklin will guide the organization and its 2,000-plus volunteers through a busy summer while planning for next year. She spoke this week about heading west, developing her career and why this is the perfect place for what she does.
Can you tell us about yourself and your background?
I was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated with a degree in wildlife biology from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. I was offered a job in Nevada and thought that would be fun, so I moved the 1,500 miles. … I worked at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and that gave me an incredible background in restoration, botany and working for and with the government. … I spent three years there and ended up getting a job with the Nature Conservancy in Las Vegas. After a year, I decided to get my graduate degree and checked out a few different schools before finding Colorado State University. So I moved to get my graduate degree in 2009, worked there until 2012, moved up to Meeker on the Western Slope and worked for the Bureau of Land Management as an ecologist and plant botanist, and then this position came up. … It has been two years, and working here has been incredible — I love it.
What do you enjoy about Colorado Springs?
The fact that I can look out my window every morning and see Pikes Peak is incredible. I love the location of this town: It is one of the easiest places for recreation and access. We’ve also got a really amazing group of nonprofits in this town.
Can you explain what you do at RMFI?
I am the program director here and was hired to oversee all of the programs. … I come up with the plans and I determine what areas we’re going to restore and how we’ll go about doing it …. So I do a lot of the big-picture stuff, but I also do a lot of the stuff on the ground and get out and see the site and what needs to be done. But we’re a very small nonprofit, so we all wear a lot of hats. I’m acting executive director, so I’ve found myself writing a lot of grants and getting started planning for next year.
What is the most rewarding part for you?
I think seeing the work that we get done … being able to see all of this come together at a place like Garden of the Gods, Barr Trail, Black Forest Regional Park, at the Waldo Canyon burn scar, and to see the impact that we are making is the most rewarding thing. That is why I do what I do.
How does the work environment here differ from where you’ve been?
Las Vegas was a very hard place to live and to work in my field, so Colorado Springs is definitely more amenable to what I believe and what I would like to see in a place for young professionals. … There is so much energy and so much potential in this town. It’s a great place to live and it’s got some really neat niches, but people our age struggle to live here because it is dominated by certain demographics. Not that there is anything wrong with having the military here and having the religious groups that we have, but it makes us very politicized and polarized, and sometimes it makes it difficult to have a conversation about what can be done because everyone has their own way. Compromise is one thing that I wish there was more of here. … We have the potential to be a truly great, cohesive community.nCSBJ