Points of Impact:
Special Feature: Finding Opportunity in AmeriCorps
Dylan Lenzen grew up in Rochester, Minnesota and then Phoenix, surrounded by a family of mostly doctors with a computer programming Dad. As a little kid he wanted to be a doctor and was dead set against computers. When it came time to go to college he had decided he was interested in working in sustainability and so he selected the “weirdest” college he could find with a green focus. It was a small school in Wisconsin. After one year there he freaked out a bit, he couldn’t see how his studies were connected to any specific career or where he would go next. He transferred to NAU as a sophomore in the hopes of finding something more practical.
Once he arrived at NAU, Dylan fine-tuned his academic focus. He moved through Environmental Sciences with a pure Bio focus, then on to the NAU Teach program to explore science education, and finally into a public policy and political science emphasis on environmental studies through involvement in undergraduate research. That is where he found his niche. He ramped up involvement in the policy side of the green community as co-chair of the Green Jacks Student Environmental Caucus, and then applied for an AmeriCorps Position with the City of Flagstaff working in sustainability and waste reduction.
Dylan ultimately built his favorite memories at NAU while also laying a foundation for his future career through his involvement with AmeriCorps and the Green Jacks. Both organizations allowed him to make a difference working in sustainability while meeting new people, creating opportunities for other students, and hanging out with some of his best friends.
In AmeriCorps he found that in addition to getting good things done, he got to do something new almost every week. Some weeks he would speak in front of new people, others he worked on planning a publicity campaign, and still others he focused on the public responses to sustainability efforts. He really appreciated the focus the City of Flagstaff put on his own personal growth while he worked for them. This sort of focus on personal development can often be a perk for AmeriCorps members. Dylan found that serving in AmeriCorps was a particularly good fit as a college student. He was able to put in 32 hours each week while going to class, and he could still pay his bills. As an added perk he was building experience he might not afford as easily after graduation. In the end, his AmeriCorps position lead to a full-time regular position with the city after graduation, still working in sustainability!
Dylan heard about AmeriCorps at NAU’s Careers With Impact Event, where he was recruiting new members for the Green Jacks. Sharon Tewksberry-Bloom was also there recruiting for AmeriCorps, and they ended up talking about AmeriCorps at NAU. The AmeriCorps program seemed like a great way to build some experience and make some money while serving others with either local government or a nonprofit, so Dylan decided to apply.
Dylan’s experience in AmeriCorps really built on the path he had started towards his future with his involvement in undergraduate research and public policy. As an incoming freshman, he had wanted a set path from college to career. That’s why he originally picked that weird little college with the idea that it would have a direct correlation between particular majors and careers in sustainability. Once he started, he realized that the ambiguities of picking a major that didn’t have a career directly attached to it were sort of terrifying. Then he bucked up and embraced his fears by trying out a lot of different things at NAU, allowing himself to even explore opportunities that didn’t sound great.
After all, he found he was actually quite interested in working in policy and political science when these areas originally sounded quite boring. If he hadn’t tried out policy, he would never have found the position he has now and that he enjoys quite a lot. In contrast, when he tried out the NAU Teach program he found out he did not want to teach after all, so in that case he eliminated a field of interest before he got too deeply involved. His approach to building experience at NAU seemed to be a lot like the experiences of a really savvy and serious dater. He gave everyone a chance, but in the end only really invested in the experiences that seemed to have promise for the long term. This exploration ultimately helped Dylan to set a path he was comfortable with.
As Dylan moves on from NAU he will take with him his experience in blazing trails through ambiguity, along with a strong network of professionals and students in Flagstaff’s green community. He is aiming to create his future working in sustainability – particularly in waste reduction – starting with his position with the City of Flagstaff and eventually moving on to graduate school and further work in public service and policy. It seems clear that he will be able to build on his experiences over and over again as he goes forward, continually fostering the courage to give new things a chance while focusing on work that he values and believes in.
He encourages his fellow Lumberjacks to do the same.
Then try something else.
If you want to try something new while getting things done and serving others, try it with AmeriCorps. It could lead to your first career position. It could just help you know what you don’t want to do. Either way, free sweatshirt.