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Al Pak's Story

How did you first get started volunteering with WEN?

“So, I went to a WEN training and my mind was blown. I had no idea what it was. I had no knowledge of anything related, remotely close to water. It was all new and it was pretty fascinating stuff. And then they pulled out the bugs and they had me!

I studied geography at U of M, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the university either. I struggled, a lot, with which one [major] can I choose that sort of includes them all and that was geography. I concentrated mostly on the community planning aspects and GIS. I started working at Rhithron in the summer of 2011 and that was a lucky find because I graduated and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I started panicking and found that job posting in the paper. And said, ‘I know how to do that! I can pick bugs for a job, that’s amazing!’

It’s a great job and I don’t think I would have landed the job as quickly had I not done volunteer work with WEN. Thank you WEN! Now I have a great job.”

What kind of things did you learn from working with students at WEN?

“Why do I continue to work with WEN? Not only am I helping them to provide that knowledge to the kids and seeing them teach that knowledge to the kids and helping getting them interested. It was also a way for me to start communicating more with people. When I was in school, I didn’t talk pretty much at all and that continued through to university.

So when I started volunteering with WEN, I’d have something I could talk about, something that sort of bridged the gap between me and the rest of society.

It was sort of cool to have that happen. Talking about bugs with kids was a good way to learn to communicate.”

What kind of school groups have you participated in recently?

“I got a chance to go volunteer at the C.S. Porter [Middle School] where they go down to the Bitterroot River, just down the street from where I work. [Field trips were conducted with Rhithron technicians taking turns on different days to go down to the river to teach the students about their particular expertise.] The kids would walk around to different stations with [micro]scopes set-up [to look at bugs] and it was fun. I hope we get to do it again. Once I started working at [Rhithron] I ran out of time to volunteer a whole lot, but its nice to do it when I can.”

Is there a memorable experience that you can think of with WEN?

“I have to say I enjoy the Washington Middle school field trips because they already know everything and you get to sit back and watch how much they know and how much they are into it. It’s pretty cool […] and sometimes they teach you stuff. I didn’t take any really specific ecology classes in college and its like, really, cool to see them get excited. And you might save one of their questions for the next time. You can’t let them know that you didn’t know the answer. But you will know it on the next field trip.

You know, thats what I really like about WEN. The aspect of giving the kids this hands on experience down by the river. Because I didn’t get any of that growing up in school. I think I went to all the schools that didn’t participate in WEN activities. And it was a real eye opener. That number one, schools actually did this and number two, I think it’s a pretty critical thing for kids to do the hands on, down by the river [learning], as opposed to just looking at pictures. You either get it or you don’t and most of the time you don’t.

I never would have thought I would end up in a lab looking at bugs for a living. But it’s pretty cool.

I believe that WEN’s mission is not only simple in concept, but critical in context. And the fact that they can accomplish all this with the biggest smiles and the most energetic optimism I have ever seen…it’s inspiring. That’s why I think WEN deserves the title of AWESOME/AMAZING followed by 7-8 exclamation points.”