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GBI Alumnus Profile: Jacob Karkowski

GBI Alumnus Profile: Jacob Karkowski

Jacob Karkowski started working for GBI in May 2022. This month, we bid him a fond farewell. We’re always a little sorry to see someone as likeable and hard-working as Jacob go, but we’re also very excited for him as he continues to build his career working for the Wisconsin Conservation Corps (WisCorps) as the Restoration Crew Lead at Indiana Dunes National Park. And we’re gratified to have provided him with opportunities for professional and personal development that will serve him well in the future.

Jacob came to GBI with good experience that exhibited both his work ethic and ability to work cooperatively with others. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Forestry: Ecosystem Restoration and Management at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. There he also served as president for both the school’s Land Conservation Society and the UWSP Chapter for the Society for Ecological Restoration. “I started up a program alongside my fellow officers training and facilitating students to become stewards and allow for student run restoration work days on university natural lands,” he explains. “I previously briefly worked as a Restoration Ecologist for a Chicago based Civil engineering firm where I aided in performing wetland delineations and various restoration activities for local townships, conservation districts, and even some private landowners.” Concluding that the private world of ecological restoration was an imperfect fit, Jacob decided to expand his horizons and look towards something a little bit different working with the Great Basin Institute.

Serving with GBI as a Botany Technician for the Redding Field Office, Jacob was granted the opportunity to learn about Northern California’s diverse and varied ecosystems and plant diversity. “I participated in the BLM’s Seeds of Success (SOS) program where in the 2022 season I identified and collected over 10,000 seeds of 6 different species to be put in long term storage for future restoration use and potentially to help revive the species if it ever goes extinct. I conducted surveys for different special status species across BLM properties to help ensure that they were protected during any potential disturbance the site may receive due to various other projects the BLM had planned at their sites. Lastly, I put a lot of effort into revamping how information is stored and delivered within the Botany system for the Redding Field Office so that future botanists may better know how to do their job, as well as better report their findings, and keep everything in a consistent and organized format.”

Jacob describes his new role as a Crew leader with WisCorps: “I will be leading the restoration crew at Indiana Dunes National Park. There I will be responsible for myself and my four crew members in working with the National Park staff towards restoring the incredibly diverse communities the great Michigan dunes have to offer. My work will be a continuation of my seed collecting experience I had with GBI, the removal of invasive species such as European Buckthorn and Reed Canary Grass, and the use of herbicides in order to help prevent the dunes from being further invaded.” Indeed, Jacob sees his work with GBI as an important precedent to his forthcoming work. “One of the most important skills I learned with GBI’s unique structure was getting to directly work with federal employees on conservation related issues. It helped me a ton in understanding how federal agencies operate and how I can best go about working with agencies like the BLM or NPS to improve and achieve conservation-oriented goals. Working with GBI has helped me improve my botany skills greatly and will help me teach my crew how to better understand the plants around them at the National Park. While working with GBI, I was able to work adjacently with other AmeriCorps such as one crew with the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).”

Importantly, Jacob credits GBI with aiding him on a very personal level. “I applied to work with the Great Basin Institute after going through an identity crisis after not enjoying my first job out of college like I thought I would. I was worried that I had made a mistake both as a career and education, and that this wasn’t the career for me. I decided to take one leap of faith and overcome my self-doubt by putting myself somewhere entirely different from everything I knew. The Great Basin Institute made that possible and allowed me to challenge everything I could about myself and was paramount to regaining my love and passion for nature. GBI allowed me to overcome my past failures and provided a fantastic journey of growth and independence that inevitably culminated in my position working alongside WisCorps and the National Park Service at Indiana Dunes National Park. Working alongside the Great Basin Institute and the Bureau of Land Management has been an unforgettable experience that has taught me what it truly means to be a professional in the world of conservation, and that this career path can be so much more than just filling out contracts and making the customer happy – it can be about helping nature and ensuring its survival and protection.”

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