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Dr. Diana Wager and Blake Thomas
SU Alumnus Blake Thomas, right, serves as a park ranger at Janes Island State Park. On days when his former SU professor, Dr. Diana Wagner, left, is volunteering, Thomas is her boss in a story that has brought his education full circle.

SU Alumnus Blake Thomas' ODEL Education Comes Full Circle in Ranger Role

SALISBURY, MD---This summer, recent Salisbury University graduate Blake Thomas is working his ideal post-graduation job as a park ranger at Janes Island State Park in Crisfield, MD.

He is not in a cubicle, he is interacting with people, and as his education and profession intersect, he is now the boss of one of his former SU professors.

As a sophomore, Thomas enrolled in Dr. Diana Wagner’s Foundations of Outdoor Education course. He was an environmental studies major who always had park service in the back of his mind for a career path. By the midway point of Wagner’s class, he added outdoor education leadership (ODEL) as a minor and asked her for help getting established in the field.

“Dr. Wagner mentioned she was a volunteer ranger, so after class one day, I asked her if she had any tips to get my foot in the door in the parks service, and she said ‘Oh yeah, I’ll put you on an email with the two managers at Janes Island,’” recalled Thomas.

That email quickly manifested itself into an internship during his junior year and his current seasonal ranger position, which began before he even graduated.

Now, he spends his days in an ever-changing world where he is primarily outdoors, interacting with nature and new people all the time.

“Some days you could be out on a boat fixing a barn owl box or an osprey nest platform. Some days you might be sitting in the office working on getting your boating license for eight hours,” he said. “It varies day to day, and that’s why I think I like it so much. I’m not doing the same thing every day.”

He gets to continue to work with Wagner when she is working her volunteer ranger role. When Thomas is the Duty Ranger on shift, he is technically Wagner’s supervisor. Thomas was surprised the first time she asked for his approval to take her lunch break.

“It’s a little weird,” he said. “Technically, yes, I am her boss. But she still knows more than me. So most of the time, she’s still helping me with what I have to do.

“I prefer to think of it as working alongside of her, not supervising her.”

Wagner is always happy to see students follow their passions with their careers, and she gets a front-row seat to the start of Thomas’ career

"Blake’s experience exemplifies what it means to be a faculty member.  Ultimately, it all comes down to opening doors for students, to showing them where those entry doors are. And if we’ve done a good job, they get themselves through the door. Or in this case, down the trail.”

Thomas’ position is seasonal and will end in November, but he plans to apply for the Maryland Conservation Corps, which is affiliated with Americorps and works in conjunction with the Maryland Parks Service, to prepare him for a full-time career in the field.

His start at SU and the guidance of Wagner and the rest of the ODEL faculty have gotten him off to a great start.    

“I think it’s just cool that one of my professors was so willing to help me out, and even after I’ve graduated and no longer one of her students, she’s still teaching me outside the classroom,” said Thomas. “I’m not sure where else I could have gone to get that experience.”

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