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Alumni connection leads to opportunity in Alaska

By Kari VanDerVeen
January 4, 2013

Erin Fulton '09 experienced the power of the St. Olaf College alumni network firsthand when Scott Hed '90 helped her land a job with the Sitka Conservation Society in Alaska.

During her four years at St. Olaf College, Erin Fulton '09 heard many a tale of the generosity and camaraderie of the school's alumni.

Now, thanks to Scott Hed '90, she has a tale of her own to tell.

Fulton, a biology and environmental studies major at St. Olaf, was looking for work after earning master's degrees in forestry and environmental management from Duke University last spring. But finding a paying position with an environmental nonprofit organization — her dream job — can be difficult, as she spent several months and dozens of applications and interviews learning.

Then the St. Olaf Magazine arrived in the mail with a cover story on the work Hed is doing in Alaska to preserve the largest wild salmon fishery in the world.

"As an outdoor enthusiast and environmentalist, Alaska has always been first on my list of places I've wanted to live and work," Fulton says. "I knew that I had in my hands probably the best chance I'd ever have to get there."

So she sent Hed an email asking for advice on finding work in the environmental nonprofit world.

He responded almost immediately.

Erin Fulton '09 stands near a path of bear tracks on the banks of a river in Alaska.

Through emails and phone conversations, they talked about how Hed came to work for the Alaska Conservation Foundation and his own organization, the Sportsman's Alliance for Alaska; about Fulton's interests in forest conservation and multi-use land stewardship; and their mutual affection for Alaska.

"Even though our only connection was our education at St. Olaf, he helped me out as if I was family," Fulton says.

Hed even mailed Fulton an "introduction to Alaska" care package complete with his personal copies of books, magazines, and DVDs examining the many environmental issues of importance in the state.

And although they only knew each other through phone conversations, Hed sent an email on Fulton's behalf to nearly everyone in the environmental field in southeast Alaska.

Less than a week later, she received a call from the executive director at the Sitka Conservation Society. He wanted to talk about a position he was thinking of creating to focus on bringing together the many different values and interests of the people of Sitka, Alaska. The right candidate for the position would work on creating more cohesive and effective collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service, the City of Sitka, and the fishermen, hunters, tour guides, and others whose livelihoods depend on the health of the Tongass National Forest and the salmon that return there every year.

Fulton was a perfect fit.

Six weeks after her first email to Hed, Fulton packed her car and began the long drive from Minnesota to Sitka. Now three months into her new job, she's working closely with local residents and the Forest Service to outline priorities for the area's natural resources. She's made maps, done field work, and even assisted with education programs.

"Every day I'm still in awe at the beautiful place I now live in and work to protect," Fulton says. "And it's all been possible because of a fellow St. Olaf alum."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or