"Where Are They Now?" featuring SNR alum Elyse Watson

Elyse Watson currently works as the scout and wildlife safari park coordinator at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. (Photo courtesy Elyse Watson)
Elyse Watson currently works as the scout and wildlife safari park coordinator at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. (Photo courtesy Elyse Watson)

When she graduated in December 2009, Elyse Watson – like many young alums – faced an uncertain future.

"It took me a little while to get to where I am today," Watson said. "I had thought about going to graduate school, but found it hard to pick which program was right for me."

After graduating, Watson, a fisheries and wildlife graduate, gained management experience at a retail company. She then went on to work for a nuisance wildlife removal service for three years.

She also began volunteering as a docent at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo.

"I think my career began to take shape once I became a docent at the zoo," she said.

As a docent, Watson spoke with visitors of all ages and backgrounds, allowing her to use a lot of the knowledge she'd learned in SNR.

"This really pushed me toward looking at finding a career where I'd be able to continuously learn more about wildlife and the environment while sharing my knowledge with others," she said.

Last summer, that career began to take off when Watson was selected as the zoo's scout and wildlife safari park coordinator.

"Besides the obvious fact that I work at a zoo – and who wouldn't enjoy working at a zoo – I love the fact that things are always changing and growing at the zoo and safari park, and I get to be a part of that," she said.

Watson's main responsibilities include running all of the scouting programs at the zoo and safari park. She works with boy and girl scouts, independent groups and families.

"The most challenging part about what I do is having to remember that there are only so many hours in the day to get things done," Watson said. "I'm lucky to work in an environment that allows for so much creativity and growth. But I have to remind myself that just because I've come up with a new idea for a class or event, that doesn't mean it needs to happen right away."

Watson said that she aims to make her programming an integral part of the Henry Doorly Zoo experience.

"My most immediate goal is to grow my programs, and make them so memorable that they are one of the reasons that visitors keep coming back to the zoo and safari park," she said.

Although Watson's time at SNR ended more than five years ago, she considers the school an essential part of her success.

"I don't believe that I would have been able to get the position I’m currently in if it weren't for my education from SNR," Watson said. "I've been able to take the knowledge I gained as an SNR student and apply it to the classes and events I coordinate."

For students unsure about what their postgraduate lives will look like, Watson said it's important to remember that everyone goes through similar phases.

"You are not alone," she said. "I went into my undergrad thinking I was going to be a park ranger, but that changed throughout my time at SNR."

Watson said the key is to focus on getting experience, even if it's not in a job that may result in a career.

"It's amazing how important it is to employers to see that you didn't give up just because you didn't get your dream job right out of the gate," she said. "Also, remember that you can always find ways to volunteer somewhere that may closer align to your professional aspirations while you're working."

— Mekita Rivas, Natural Resources