Please stay on the trail: path to vocation

Seattle Pacific alumna Emma Burke ’21 is on her way to becoming a national park ranger. But her trail to finding her vocation was rocky.

Burke studied psychology and, in her studies, struggled to pinpoint what it was she wanted to do for her career. She enjoyed her major, but it was not what she wished to pursue after graduation. In her junior year at SPU, she came to a breaking point — she contemplated dropping out of college.

Burke joined a class offered by SPU’s Center for Career and Calling called “Finding Your Vocation.” The two-credit seminary-style course is offered every quarter to help students learn more about themselves and sense God’s call on their life. That was the case for Burke.

After completing the course, Burke turned to the Center for Applied Learning to help her find a mentor. The program helped her figure out who she wanted to build a relationship with, and, following a long search, Burke was matched with Emily, a park ranger at Glacier National Park in Montana.

Emily helped Burke apply for a short-term, seasonal job at a national park which would help her determine if working at a national park was something she desired for the long-term.

She was scheduled to be a concierge at Glacier National Park after applying to multiple positions. A few weeks later she received a devastating email: Her position was rescinded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was shocked and disappointed,” Burke said, “but I wasn’t going to let it stop me. I immediately got in contact with other national parks to see what opportunities were available.”

A week later, Burke landed a position as a front desk agent at the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Burke had not visited Yellowstone prior to working in the park, but she quickly fell in love with its beauty.

“Yellowstone is really unique because you get to see the inner-workings of earth on its surface,” she explained. “The volcanic activity all around the park is unlike anything I’ve seen before.”

Burke found herself growing in ways she hadn’t expected during her time at the park. She became more comfortable being alone and fell in love with the independence it afforded her. It felt good to be present with herself and with nature.

Despite all her time alone, Burke still found herself making meaningful connections.

“I made some cool connections when I would be on a solo adventure and would pull over to take a photo of wildlife,” Burke noted. “I love connecting with people who have a shared passion and love for not only Yellowstone but natural wonders.”

Her passion for connecting with people through nature is becoming her calling. Burke is ready to live a nomadic lifestyle. She is currently interviewing to become a ranger at a national park this summer.

As another mentor to Burke put it: “You have so many national parks to call home, and this is just the beginning.”


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Zelda Tiemann | photo by Lynn Anselmi
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