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A Natural, Inside and Out

David Donovan entered the College of Biological Sciences as an outdoor enthusiast interested in the environment. By the time the ecology, evolution and behavior major graduated in December 2010, he had discovered an indoor outlet for both passions—natural resources public policy.

As a member of GreenCorps, the environmental branch of AmeriCorps, he has an opportunity to work out of doors while helping to shape public policy indoors.  His 11-month GreenCorps assignment is at Three Rivers Park District, a sprawling 27,000-acre system west of Minneapolis that extends from St. Michael in the north to Lakeville in the south. Over the winter, he is leading a three-part workshop called “The Lazy Gardener’s Guide,” which applies urban forestry management concepts to yards and gardens, and creating related brochures and a traveling poster exhibit for display in nature centers. This spring, he’ll help with an inventory of trees in the park district’s active use and natural areas.

Donovan ticks off the CBS experiences that led him to this point: foundations of biology course in his freshman year, which exposed him to every major field in the biological sciences; directed study as the first undergraduate involved in the camera-tracking project to study lion behavior in the Serengeti; and serving as vice-president of CBS Ambassadors.

A summer internship with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ watercraft inspection program at Lake Minnetonka marked a turning point. It was the year zebra mussels were discovered in the lake, and he realized that “interacting with the public on an issue like that was appealing to me.”

Outgoing, thoughtful, and keen for new experiences, Donovan was a natural fit for the initial cohort of CBS’s Dean’s Scholars, one of the first college-based leadership programs at the University. With its focus on self-awareness, citizenship, and creating change, Dean’s Scholars was “probably the most practical and useful” experience of his undergraduate years. He says it challenged him be reflective and consider what he was taking from every experience.

“Everything I do I tie back to Dean’s Scholars—that’s my mantra,” Donovan said. “It was huge, a big part of why I am serving with GreenCorps.” Taking up GreenCorps’ challenge to explore avenues of change outside the assignment’s day-to-day tasks, the St. Louis Park native is eagerly exploring the administrative workings of the complex park district and is soaking up his interactions with “all the people who come together to make this grand system work.”

Recently, Donovan decided to observe a public meeting of the park district’s board of commissioners. Arriving early, he was recognized by an associate superintendent who asked if he would be comfortable addressing the board about his projects. “It was a sink or swim experience,” he laughed. To find out how it went, check out treedavetree.wordpress.com, the blog Donovan is writing about his GreenCorps experience.

“I’m at sort of a jumping off point from college to career,” Donavan mused. He works part-time as a live-in resident director at Argyle House, an apartment complex geared to University undergraduates, and is preparing to apply to a master’s degree program in management of natural resources and public policy. He’s prepared for the next step. “I learned a great set of skills in my undergraduate career at the U that I can apply in many settings,” Donovan said.

— Laura Weber