Traveling across the country to follow his passion and pursue a certificate
Growing up in New York, Sean Davis didn’t spend much time in green spaces. His mother did her best to impart her love for the natural world to Sean.
“My mother’s from Jamaica, and she was infatuated with trees,” Sean said, “but she was raising me in Brooklyn, and she would tell me about these trees that I would never, ever experience.”
Though Brooklyn was home, Sean never took to the gray, cramped bustle of the city.
“I felt claustrophobic, and I never really wanted the typical nine-to-five,” he said.
Now, years later and 3,000 miles away, Sean has found all the green space he needs. Sean works as a restoration and education specialist at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, which sits on wetlands just north of Vancouver, Washington.
Sean found his interest in wildlife and green spaces circuitously: his time at Ridgefield was preceded by stints in Montreal, Alaska, California and Oregon, most of which were spurred by seasonal jobs in the environmental education sector.
Of all his seasonal jobs, Sean remembers one — teaching environmental education to students from Los Angeles — as the catalyst that sparked his passion for environmental education.
“It inspired me to ask and answer my own science questions and pursue life as a scientist,” he said of his job with NatureBridge, where he taught students about the giant Sequoias at Calaveras Big Trees State Park and took them rock climbing at Joshua Tree.
As someone who grew up in a metropolis, Sean valued sharing his love of nature with students who don’t normally have that chance — and don’t normally have teachers who look like them.
“When folks go to natural places, the faces they see don’t represent the dynamic of our population at large,” he said. “So, if you’re an inner-city person of color, and you get out into public land, you don’t necessarily see yourself represented by the folks who are teaching you.”
Sean wants everyone, regardless of race, income or access, to discover the joy he’s found in nature.
“It’s a thing that folks of all socioeconomic backgrounds can partake in and be a part of,” he said.
Now, as he’s wading through frigid wetlands counting Oregon spotted frog eggs, Sean counts himself lucky to have found his calling.
“I’ve just haphazardly walked into something that I discovered I’m really passionate about,” he said.
A Way Forward
Like any good educator, Sean knew that to best serve his students he needed to go back to school himself.
“I want to ask and answer questions instead of just facilitating the asking and the answering of the questions,” he said. “Academia is great because this is where you’re supposed to make mistakes. It’s all about learning.”
After searching online for ways to go further in his field, Sean discovered the University of Washington Certificate in Wetland Science & Management — an ideal way to connect with other environmentalists.
“My primary objective with this program is making connections,” he said, “and I know it's a professional certificate, so I know the classroom will be filled with professionals and folks doing all sorts of cool stuff in wetlands.”
Sean hopes that the certificate can open doors for him as he looks to advance in the field of wetland management, whether that means pursuing a master’s, working in a research lab or both.
“I’d love the ability to maybe parlay this into a bigger opportunity in academia,” he said. “It would be awesome just to make inroads, even if it’s not an academic inroad, maybe a professional inroad. I think just the exposure to other people doing what I do and the exposure to science will just be fabulous.”
Getting a push from a scholarship
The opportunity to explore the larger academic and professional world of wetland management wouldn’t be possible without the UW Certificate Scholarship Fund, which has provided Sean and 21 other students a chance to keep learning since its inception in 2017.
“I couldn’t afford it without the scholarship, and I think the scholarship gives me a great opportunity to be a practitioner whose livelihood doesn’t depend on how successful I am in the immediate moment,” Sean said. “The scholarship really urged me to apply and see if I could make a go at it.”
The UW Certificate Scholarship allows Sean to breathe a little more freely, giving him time to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds him so many miles from where his journey began.
“I now spend my nights behind a gate on a wildlife refuge, and I don’t hear passing cars or arguments or ambulances in the night,” he said. “I hear geese. I hear cranes.”
You can help open the door to opportunity for other students like Sean.