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Meet Tegan: National Park Service employee and former Peace Corps Agent

GUYS, meet Tegan! We went to high school together and she is just one of those amazing gals who is smart and lights up everyone around her. I have always been in awe of her brains but also her tenacity, something she definitely tapped into as a Peace Corps agent.

She’s now living the dream working at the National Park Service. Read more about Tegan below!

Tell us a little about yourself and your career

I’m an avid mountain-goer. Trail running, hiking, backpacking, and cross-country skiing are pretty much the focus of all of my free time – unless I’m cooking up something delicious in the kitchen, which I also love doing. I speak three languages fluently (English, French, and Wolof). I have the most wonderful trail/snuggle buddies – a blue heeler mutt named JoJo, and my partner in crime, Nathan, who’s a high school shop teacher (at the high school that we both graduated from!)

In my 9-5 life, I’m a Youth and Volunteer Program Coordinator for the National Park Service. I help parks figure out how to better employ youth and young adults, and engage volunteers of all ages, by providing funding and policy guidance, and someone to bounce ideas off of. I also advocate for and provide a voice for the least powerful members of our workforce – our volunteers and youth participants. We focus a lot on building more inclusive workplaces, particularly given the issues surrounding harassment in the NPS that you may have seen in the news over the last year or two.

We impact about 30,000 people across 8 states annually through our programs. It’s a great position which allows me to get creative and solve problems that I never thought I’d be passionate about (like teaching people how to write a federal resume, or sussing out different interpretations of the US Code of Federal Regulations… fascinating stuff.) The occasional field visits for trainings or to gather best practices don’t hurt either, given the beautiful places they tend to be 📷 I’ve been with the NPS for 3 years now – prior to that I served for two years as an Agriculture Extension Agent with the U.S. Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa.

How does your community of women you surround yourself with support you?

I can’t even express how grateful I am for the women in my life. Whether it’s my coworkers pushing me to advocate for myself and try new projects, even if I don’t feel completely qualified (Impostor Syndrome, much?!), or my friends reminding me that self care is a thing that I should do more of, the ladies in my life definitely keep me sane. And of course my mom is always there to give me advice about life, remind me that maybe I should get that hail damage on my car repaired, and drop everything to help host my best friends’ last-minute baby shower at a moments notice.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned in the Peace Corps?

White privilege is an international phenomenon that is not in any way erased when “white” is the minority. For example, you stick out like a sore thumb everywhere. Especially when you’re as blonde as I am. But instead of being out of place and feeling like you don’t belong in the negative way that many people of color experience in the U.S., your whiteness is almost always viewed as a positive thing. People assume you’re rich – which, by comparison, you probably are – and afford you an automatically powerful place at the table, regardless of your qualifications, simply because you’re a “toubab” (foreigner, in Wolof).

That positive association certainly also applies to “toubabs” of color, but not to the same degree. Another example of the pervasiveness of the idea that “white” is somehow “better” are skin lightening creams, which can be found in most developing countries, and tend to be highly poisonous – but it’s worth it somehow??

What do you wish you could go back and tell your younger self re: your career aspirations? 

It’s fine to not know what you want to do with your life. Take the next interesting opportunity, and you never know where you’ll end up! (I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up!)

What is your career-related mantra?

“Lu waay jëmul, du ko mën.” A Wolof proverb that translates as “You cannot do that which you do not try.”

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