Alumni in Action

Andrea Willingham

"Take every chance to get out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself, and take the opportunity to become who you really want to be."

Andrea Willingham
Class of 2012
Majors: Environmental Studies and Anthropology
Where are you now and what are you doing?

I am currently living in Southeast Alaska, working as a park ranger for the National Park Service. This season, I am an interpretive guide for Sitka National Historical Park, which is the state's oldest and smallest National Park, focused mainly on the Tlingit and Russian-American history of the region.

Trekking Alaska: One Girl's Adventures in the Last Frontier

What does your job entail and how has your Eckerd experience impacted your career?

This summer, my job primarily entails leading guided tours that focus on the park's totem poles and Tlingit culture, the Battle of 1804, and the historic Russian Bishop's House. Becoming a historical interpreter has been challenging, since most of my prior work focused on natural history and environmental issues. Eckerd helped me gain a canny sense of adventure, strong research and leadership skills, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of confidence in myself and my abilities.

What unique or special opportunities did your Eckerd education provide and how have they impacted your life?

Eckerd provides a plethora of opportunities, so it's only a matter of taking advantage of these to explore your world and your skills, and find what really drives you. For me, travel is my passion, and having opportunities to study abroad, take hands-on courses, engage in research projects, and take a wide variety of classes really helped inspire me to pursue and develop my interests.

Andrea Willingham Park Ranger, NPSI would not be living my dream as a park ranger in Alaska if it weren't for Eckerd College and some amazing mentors. I ended up getting a Student Conservation Association internship in Northwest Alaska a month after I graduated. This internship took me to Bering Land Bridge National Preserve for 9 months to photograph and document some of the most remote backcountry regions and villages in the state. After that, I was hired as a park ranger, and as they say, the rest is history. Since then, I have traveled all over Alaska for work and adventure. Now I am in Sitka, becoming an expert on battles, early Russian America, and northern rainforest ecology.

Describe some of your best memories or favorite traditions from your time at Eckerd.

One of my favorite memories from Eckerd was during spring break one year. I was one of the few who stayed on campus, so one day a friend and I went out kayaking from the Waterfront to enjoy the nice weather. Seemingly out of nowhere, a pod of dolphins showed up on our way back to campus! They swam under and around our kayaks for a few minutes before cruising away.

Other great times at Eckerd included the weekly International Cinema movies; fishing on the weekends with my friends; Outdoor Adventure Club camping trips; and of course the simple pleasures of hanging out with my dormmates. Good times.

Describe some of the people who had a profound impact on your Eckerd experience.

Professor Ormsby was by far one of the most influential people from my Eckerd experience. Working as her teaching and research assistant for 2 years, I learned so much and was deeply inspired by her. Professor Ormsby was incredibly supportive and influential in helping me win the Udall Scholarship in 2011, and together we also published a co-authored academic article on the Eco-Clamshell in 2013.

What activities were you involved in while at Eckerd and did they influence what you are involved in now?

During my 4 years at Eckerd, I became president of the Campus Sustainability Congress, vice president of the Outdoor Adventure Club, and helped start the campus community garden. I also did a bit of volunteering, studied abroad in London, and took spring break service trips to Puerto Rico and Iceland, which were all incredible experiences.

When I first came to Eckerd, I was super shy and awkward, but my involvement in so many activities completely changed my life. If I hadn't had the opportunities or empowerment to take the initiative on all the things that I did, I don't know that I would be in the position that I am in today.

Why did you choose Eckerd? What advice would you give students who are considering Eckerd?

Andrea Willingham in AlaskaI chose Eckerd mainly because I wanted to go to a small liberal arts school, and I really liked its core values. The best advice I can give, however, is that every experience is what you make it. Take every chance to get out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself, and take the opportunity to become who you really want to be.

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