Laura Albert: At Home (and Work) Where the Buffalo Roam

Laura Albert and Lily

Laura Albert, currently of Laramie, Wyoming, has worked in outdoor careers since before she graduated from college in 2008.

She’s covered a lot of ground in the last 15 years in jobs with the National Park Service, other government entities and in the non-profit world. Now in her mid-30s, Laura looks back on her experiences and opportunities to give us a glimpse into her life:

When did you realize you wanted to make the outdoors your career instead of music?

I started in the Music Education department at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus. But I spent my summers working at a Girl Scout camp teaching wilderness skills, kayaking and going on multi-day expeditions.

I ended up changing my major to a general music degree, and then added Outdoor Education & Recreation. When I transferred to the Duluth campus for that, I knew I was in the right place! I fell in love with the area with its vast opportunities for outdoor adventure and recreation. 

I had been doing music for all the wrong reasons. It wasn’t what God was calling me to. Sometimes you need to tell the mountain to move, sometimes you need to go around it!

I still use music, definitely. I bring a uke or guitar on camping trips. People can connect with it as a common experience. I also serve in my local church on the worship team.

Laura Albert in the mountains
Laura’s office, some days!

Tell us where that decision has taken you so far.

At first I thought I’d be a guide or work for NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). Then I realized how much I love teaching and seeing the light bulb moments when people connect with the natural environment in their own way. 

People have emotional response to experiences in nature. If it’s positive, they’ll want to help protect and preserve it. Going into environmental education was a natural progression for me in helping people come to those light bulb moments.

My first internship was with the National Park Service at Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah, that overlooks the backside of Zion National Park.

Isle Royale National Park was my next gig. I started as an intern, then two weeks later I was pulled into an “emergency hire” when someone else left. Isle Royale has numerous studies going on: history, natural history, predator and prey studies. It’s amazingly diverse for such a small place.

After that I bounced around the country for awhile, working for different public places. I intentionally found jobs in every time zone. A lot of the jobs are seasonal, and I chose ecosystems I had no experience with because I wanted to learn. Digesting all this information and meeting lots of diverse people in our country was an incredible experience!

laura albert

What led you to your current position at SROM?

After the park service and before SROM (Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries), I decided I wanted to be in one place for awhile. Moved up to Washington and did various jobs. I got connected with a wilderness therapy organization and guided kayak tours and other activities in the Seattle/Puget Sound area.

I had gotten away from working in the outdoors and forgot how healing it is in the lives of people. Working in the therapy organization made me realize I wanted to get back into it.

I helped a friend write a business proposal for an outdoor ministry. As I did some market research for that, SROM came up on a Google search. I wanted to learn more so I set up an interview and was invited by the admissions director to work there for the summer. 

They love Jesus and love the outdoors. I’d been looking for people like that my whole life and hadn’t found them in the spheres I’d been in.

That summer I worked on-base and supported the instructors and students. I wanted to learn the backend/administration side. I’d only been been there 36 hours and received a vision: “This was My plan all along.” Everything up until then was preparation for SROM.

I felt very called to be there full-time. All SROM full-timers raise their own salaries, so I went to work doing that. When I came back in February of 2017 with my funding, the position I landed in was Marketing Manager and Executive Assistant to Andrew Arnold, SROM’s Executive Director.

I go out on the field occasionally, too. Sometimes that’s scheduled, sometimes I’m on call and will go in the field if needed to replace an instructor or fill in for a few days. I’m also a certified Leave No Trace Instructor which satisfies my love for educating people.

Laura Albert kayaking

Tell us what it’s like to live out your faith through your work—in both the secular and faith-based arenas.

I’ve worked in several different levels of government: federal, state, county and municipal. I wasn’t asked to hide my faith, but I couldn’t talk about it freely unless asked. 

The cool part of that was it taught me how to walk out my faith in ways I couldn’t talk about. Walk the walk more than talk the talk.

I’ve learned how to be a disciple and walk out my faith in real, tangible ways. I get to come alongside others in the outdoor industry to have this conversation about faith and spirituality in context of nature—including how to preserve it. I love connecting with others with a different faith background and prove we can work together for a common goal.

What’s been your biggest challenge so far?

The first has to do with addictions. I’m a recovering alcoholic. A lot of the gatherings I go to in this industry (conferences, etc.) always have alcohol involved. It’s a challenge being a professional and wanting to connect and contribute but not be willing to get into the drugs and alcohol involved in the cultures of specific outdoor sports and activities. 

I’d love to see more awareness about this in general. I’m a snowboarder and a climber. When people learn that, they assume I’m a partier—it’s a stigma. It becomes a thing that sticks to you even though it doesn’t apply to you anymore.

There’s lots of awareness and sensitivity to disabilities, gender preferences, etc. But there’s very little acknowledgement about addiction within the outdoor industry. I’m hyper-aware of it because I’ve worked in wilderness therapy, but it’s not really talked about.

Laura Albert climbing

The second challenge is: How do I change the culture of management? I had lots of great mentors early on who created a safe space to grow, and other mentors who were really toxic. 

We’re creating a culture of honor within our office that values people for who they are and not what they do. I’ve been changing my own mindset and teaching up-and-coming younger leaders how to fail, not be afraid to fail, proper identity and the value of people. 

I’ve learned how to wear my own leadership hat in just the last few years, rather than try to wear someone else’s. I can lead out of my own identity.

What’s been your greatest joy so far?

All the different things I’ve learned, and helping newer leaders grow into that, too. Helping them grow and be more confident in themselves, their leadership roles and skills, and how they lead. It’s truly amazing and beautiful. I’ve loved having that relationship with others and having a good environment where people feel it’s okay to fail. 

What advice do you have for young women who want to have a career in the outdoor industry?

Learn who you are. Get to know yourself and who you are as a woman—as someone who loves the outdoors and what you love about it. Once you have that foundation, what makes you light up, then pursue that.

Vision and focus can change over time, but start with the foundation. And be flexible. Don’t compromise, but learn to flex and flow with how that vision works out. 

My passion was getting people to learn to care, to connect with the outdoors. How that worked out has changed over time. Your original dream might not be what ends up, but try not to think too small! Through God, all things are possible! 1+1 doesn’t always equal 2! It can equal 1,000 or 100,000. Shoot the moon!

Laura Albert snowboarding

What kind of training do you recommend?

It depends on the job(s) you want. Guiding can come from on-the-job training. Find places that offer training and even pay for it. Got a lifeguarding certificate. Get trained as a sea kayaker. You can take it in steps. 

You can get college credit in some hands-on programs. SROM offers two programs that will give you up to 16 college credits and it’s all in the field. NOLS offers that, too. You can even apply for financial aid because it’s through universities. That’s a fantastic option that’s available now.

Americorps and Student Conservation Corps work with experts in the field and offer internships. They give you financial aid through those programs to pursue a degree. You can work on a trail crew or with other projects right out of high school. That gives you an opportunity to learn what sets you on fire.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Laura!

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