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Come grow with us! Taking your ecosystem restoration career to new heights

October 19, 2022

How our mentorship program is reshaping career paths for our restoration ecologists and strengthening our service offerings

Josh Arrigoni offers the introduction and conclusion, reflecting on the program from a leadership perspective.

Stantec’s core values put people first and support ongoing staff development through thoughtful career planning, continuing education, and challenging ourselves to set and exceed our professional goals. Within our US North Central Ecosystem Restoration group, mentorship has always been an important part of our strategy for keeping employees engaged in their work and grounded in the science that supports it. We have developed several training programs focused on enhancing technical skills and providing staff with opportunities to learn from experts in the many environmental disciplines that contribute to a successful ecosystem restoration project.

We recognized the need for a career track that blends the skills of an ecologist and ecosystem restoration technician. A restoration ecologist can analyze and interpret ecological landscapes, applying scientific principles when developing designs, implementation techniques, and land management practices. We thought of effective ways to further train our technicians in that applied science, and realized we already have great resources, knowledge, and experience to leverage within the group. Through these conversations, a mentorship program began to take shape.

Derek Mueller and Ryan Crum were both experienced practitioners looking for guidance on how to grow their technical skills and roles within the team. They were a perfect fit for the mentorship program we had in mind, so I involved a few of our senior scientists in their year-end performance reviews to see if they would be willing to pilot the program.

How did you first get involved in the program?

Sarah Kraszewski: Josh approached me following the year-end performance review discussions about getting Ryan and Derek involved in the program. He identified that their career trajectories could be enhanced by some mentoring and asked if I was willing to help. I had already worked closely with both staff in a project manager/task manager relationship and recognized that they were interested in learning beyond their current roles, and so I worked with Josh to define what this mentorship program might look like.

Ryan Crum: I had been with Stantec for around three years and was looking for the next step in my career path. There had recently been some changes within the local ecosystem restoration group to develop a handful of new careers, including the restoration ecologist position. I felt that this path aligned best with my career goals and expressed my interest to Josh.

Derek Mueller: I was approached by Josh, who asked me if I would be interested in enrolling in the new Restoration Ecologist Mentorship Program. They explained the framework of the program, and what it was intended to teach. I was at the point in my career where I was looking for my next step forward, and the mentorship seemed like a great opportunity to develop my skillset.

The East Troy Wetland Mitigation Project in Wisconsin

What sort of topics were covered?

Sarah: Topics were intended to be a deeper dive into the ecology related to the types of ecosystem restoration projects they were currently working on. These included winter tree identification, ridge and swale ecology, stream restoration, bird identification, seed mix design, hydrology monitoring, vegetation sampling methods and report writing, pollinators, site assessment for restoration management, and plant community classification. Additionally, Ryan and Derek spent at least one day in the field with me each year assessing a project site, conducting vegetation surveys, or working on wetland delineations.

Ryan: The leadership team had developed an agenda of topics for us to follow during our monthly meetings, which were a combination of field meetings, video calls, and phone calls. We did our best to meet with individuals across the local ecosystem restoration group if they had some technical expertise in the topic we were covering. We stuck to a firm schedule and made sure the meetings were a priority.

Derek: The program was intended to facilitate a link between the science and implementation aspects of a natural area restoration. We covered various topics designed to further our knowledge of that specific area, but also how to combine them with what we had previously learned to create an adaptive management approach. Most of our meetings featured a guest from a different area of expertise.

The World Dairy Center Wetland Mitigation Bank

How has this program impacted you professionally at Stantec?

Sarah: Preparing the monthly mentorship activities allowed me to shift gears from just meeting project deadlines and deliverables. It really is true that teaching something is the best way to fully learn it. I started working at Stantec over 12 years ago and came in with a strong ecology and field work background but had no idea what it meant to work for a consulting company. Team members like Melissa Curran and Stacey Parks were integral in teaching me how to conduct vegetation surveys, improve on plant identification, delineate wetlands, and write reports. Ryan and Derek also had a lot to teach me from their educational and professional experiences.

Ryan: The program has allowed me to take the next step in my career path. It has been a great opportunity for me to learn and develop as an ecologist from experts within Stantec. The valuable mentorship gave me more confidence in my work and increased my capabilities within the local ecosystem restoration group. It was a great opportunity to network and learn from exceptional individuals.

Derek: In addition to widening my knowledge and increasing my skillset, this mentorship taught me to take a step back and look at ecosystem restoration through a broader, watershed-scale lens. It’s easy to get caught up in the task you are performing, and not see past the direct impacts. It’s a mindset that allows you to realize that you are doing good for the ecosystem as a whole—resulting in a multiplicity of benefits to both people and the environment.

Sarah and Derek working on vegetation surveys.

What would you recommend to someone seeking out mentorship opportunities?

Sarah: At Stantec, the possibilities for growth are unlimited. There is so much to experience and learn from others, whether you become part of a formal or informal mentorship. If you see someone that is doing work that is interesting to you, ask to spend some time with them. If you choose to pursue a formal mentorship, have a meet-up to chat and see if you are compatible with the mentor. Set goals for the program, identify the frequency of meetings (e.g., once a month), and the duration of the mentorship (e.g., one year, two years), then schedule the meetings in advance and commit to them.

Ryan: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak up. We are all constantly learning, and it never stops. Look around Stantec and see what interests you. This is just one version of a mentorship program and there are others on different career paths and topics. Stick to a strict schedule with your mentorship program. It’s easy to push meetings aside because we are busy, but we need to take the time to learn and develop as professionals.

Derek: Mentorships don’t have to be official—if you are interested in learning more about something or improving in a certain area, lean on someone with more experience. Chances are they’ll learn something from you as well! Try new things. You’ll find out quickly if it isn’t for you, and you’ll still be better for it. Ask questions about anything you don’t know the answer to. Set a schedule. Be punctual and consistent to ensure success.

Mentorships don’t have to be official—if you are interested in learning more about something or improving in a certain area, lean on someone with more experience.

What does the future look like?

The first iteration of the mentorship program went even better than I anticipated, largely due to the dedication that Sarah showed as a mentor, devoting her personal time to make the content engaging and really working to connect with her mentees. Ryan and Derek stuck with the program through the pandemic and their busy field schedules in 2020. I think they both came away with a much richer understanding of applied ecology and a clearer path forward in their careers, where they can apply what they have learned to bring an increased level of quality to our project work.

  • Josh Arrigoni

    As an environmental project manager, Josh helps lead our ecosystem restoration implementation group. His experience includes site assessment, restoration planning, construction administration, and natural areas stewardship.

    Contact Josh
  • Sarah Kraszewski

    Sarah passionate about working on large-scale restoration and mitigation projects. She works closely with utility clients to conducts environmental assessments, design restoration plans, and conduct post-construction monitoring and reporting.

    Contact Sarah
  • Ryan Crum

    A restoration ecologist working on prairies, wetlands, and woodlands, Ryan develops restoration plans that restore natural habitats and create community spaces.

    Contact Ryan
  • Derek Mueller

    A restoration ecologist, Derek has worked on wetlands, prairies, and woodlands as a crew leader and task manager.

    Contact Derek
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