Educator in Death Valley National Park: Marcus Hill ’19

February 21, 2020
Jaimie Yue '22
Two people post with bird mascot.
Marcus Hill is interning with the Geoscientists-in-Parks program at Death Valley National Park. Photo credit: Courtesy of Marcus Hill

Marcus Hill ’19 was a geology major and promoted the major as a geology student representative. Today he works alongside seasoned park rangers helping to run education programs for elementary school students.

The summer before his first year in Oberlin, Hill was part of Oberlin’s first Science and Technology Research Opportunities for the Next Generation (STRONG) cohort as a STRONG scholar, an undergraduate research program for STEM. Now, he's interning in the Geoscientists-in-Parks program as an education teacher in Death Valley National Park, where he runs educational programs about geology and the environment for children.

What do you do in your current role at the Geoscientists-in-Parks program?

I am working alongside Erikka Olson, a recent grad from Williams College in Massachusetts, and a few other seasoned park rangers to run education programs for local elementary schools. We have programming for school visits where we go to the classroom, and field trips where the classes come to us. Our activities all revolve around making the geology and environment of the park fun and accessible. We have several programs that go to many different prominent areas of the park where we show students how features like the sand dunes, salt beds, and slot canyons came to be. When we don’t have classes in the park, I will often work in the visitor center and hold activities for the families passing through there. 

How has your experience at Death Valley National Park been so far?

It’s been a blast! On the weekends I get to explore the park and often will have the opportunity to go on employee-only hikes and trips, which is amazing. Most of the jobs in the National Park Service are just seasonal or temporary, so I’m still searching. But that is something that Oberlin definitely gave me the confidence to do: feeling comfortable enough to keep exploring new opportunities as they show up.

In terms of what I’m looking to do next, honestly I’d love to have a job just like this—only for longer than five months! I was surprised to find out that there are very few geologists on staff here at the park, so almost everyone I talk to—from students to parents to even coworkers—is excited to learn about the rocks from someone who spent several years learning about rocks. I leave work with a big smile on my face most days.

Did any faculty or staff at Oberlin particularly enhance your college experience?

When I applied for STRONG, former program director Afia Ofori-Mensa was able to find a space for me with Associate Professor Amanda Schmidt. The very first professor I met on campus ended up being my advisor and one of the most important people in my Oberlin career. 

Afia (who is at Princeton now) and Amanda undoubtedly shaped my Oberlin career and future trajectory in ways that I still can’t thank them both enough for. Amanda, and her family, became my second family. She was not only one of my biggest ambassadors and advocates on campus, but also invited my other lab mates and me to home-cooked dinners and game nights with her and her family often. Her door was always open for any issues that I had.

I also had connections to staff and faculty within the Career Development Center, such as Dana Hamdan and Sylvia Rios, and some French and religion professors. All of these people were so kind and fun, and I would consider them all friends. Because they all span so many subjects, each had a different influence, but they were all important in helping me get to where I am now. 

My biggest piece of advice on making meaningful relationships with faculty and professors is to do just that: make the relationships meaningful. It’s easy to just see them as professors and advisors, people who have authority on a certain subject and that’s it. But that’s so limiting! I can’t stress enough how important it is, especially within your major, to have one faculty member who you can connect with and have conversations about interests and passions. They will absolutely have connections and insights that will be invaluable for any student moving forward.

What extracurricular activities or student jobs at Oberlin gave you professional experience?

As a geology student representative, I worked alongside the geology department faculty to help hire new professors, work out class schedules, and coordinate events in the department. I really loved this position because it allowed me to build connections with the faculty in a way that I wouldn't have otherwise. I got to interact with geology majors in different years regularly too, so that was exciting. Being on that side of the hiring process was also very useful for seeing how to put together application materials for jobs.

Also, the Career Development Center is absolutely invaluable. I cannot recommend going to this resource enough. You can pick up useful information from here at any time in your Oberlin college career, first year to senior year. If you need advice applying for anything, go here. Even if you feel like your materials are perfect, just having another set of eyes can only help. The tips and advice I learned from the Career Development Center are still things I share here at my new job, even after Oberlin.

STRONG was absolutely the catalyst to my success at Oberlin. Without it, I would not have achieved half of what I did. I say that confidently because it gave me an immediate connection to a faculty advisor and a group of friends all in the same boat as me. Oberlin is a small place, but it is still very easy to feel overwhelmed in the blink of an eye. Having a cohort community kept me from feeling that isolation. I immediately had a group of friends I could talk and hang out with.

What experiences, opportunities, and classes did you take that were unique to Oberlin?

All my winter terms! I went to China for my first winter term, Arkansas for my second, and an island called Dominica for my third. All of these were for geology research projects. I got to go to really exciting places and then go on to research and present these trips. All of these trips were funded through the Office of Winter Term. Low-cost international travel is a possibility. Make the most of your winter term opportunities because they can be so much fun!

During my last semester at Oberlin, I was abroad in London through the Oberlin in London program. That was such an amazing experience. I got to take some of my favorite classes and explore one of the coolest cities in the world all in one semester, and complete my major with the geology and anthropology departments that went!

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