Wednesday, October 16, 2013

First Master's International grad lands perfect job

Erin Kelly, the University of Alaska Fairbanks' first Master's International graduate (May 2009), is working for the New York Department of Labor as an agriculture labor specialist.

"Oh my gosh; I love it," Kelly exclaimed. "It's a really good use of my skills."

Erin Kelly (far left) with her good friend Nina Ana and children in El Salvador. Kelly returns there every year to visit.
Kelly works with farmers and farm laborers, making sure the farms are in compliance with labor laws and that the laborers know their rights. "It's been an adjustment," she said. "But I work with a really good team. I feel I'm making a difference. I get to use my inter-personal skills and my Spanish." The challenges have been learning the labor laws and how to maneuver through bureaucratic levels. The joy is getting to visit farms three or four days per week. "It's similar to the Peace Corps in the cultural aspects," Kelly said. "It's very rewarding." She is based in Albany and covers 14 counties.

Kelly earned a master's of science degree in natural resources management with the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. As part of her graduate work, she served two years in the Peace Corps in El Salvador. Her project was assessing the potential for ecotourism development in El Imposible National Park.

Ever since high school, Kelly had dreamed of serving in the Peace Corps. After completing a bachelor's degree in environmental science in New Hampshire, then serving with AmeriCorps, Kelly turned to Alaska for her graduate studies. "I had always wanted to go to Alaska," she said.

The SNRAS natural resources management program fit her needs to a T. "I found it intriguing that I would be the first student in the Master's International Program at UAF," Kelly said. "It was neat to help shape it. I'm so happy it's flourishing."

The Peace Corps changed everything for Kelly. "It's so much a part of my life," she said. "I go back to El Salvador every year and I raise money for scholarships through Project Salvador." She also raises money for four high school students she is helping to support.

"The Peace Corps opened my eyes and got me out of my middle class bubble," she said. "It made me appreciate what I'd been given. I will be connected to El Salvador the rest of my life."

Before coming to Fairbanks, Kelly talked to several SNRAS professors. "I liked the vibe," she said. "The people seemed welcoming. I have no regrets; it was wonderful. The support I got from faculty and staff was amazing. I had nothing but great experiences at UAF."

She loved Fairbanks so much that she would have stayed here if her family hadn't been on the East Coast. After graduating, she worked for Northern Alaska Tour Co. in Coldfoot, then became an educational coordinator for SAGA, an environmental nonprofit in Juneau. She returned to the East Coast in December 2011, relocated to Binghamton, N.Y., in April 2012 and has been in Albany since May.

Her goals are to help improve the lives of others and make a difference. For fun, Kelly goes hiking and kayaking. She serves on the board of directors for Project Salvador.

Further reading:

Mastering the Peace Corps: The toughest job you'll ever love, Aurora Magazine, Fall 2009, by LJ Evans

Alumni update: Erin Kelly in Juneau, SNRAS Science and News, Feb. 15, 2011

Salvadoran challenges, UAF Cornerstone, December 2007, by LJ Evans

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