It is a common theme among college students to dream of traveling around the United States and the world after the completion of their education, but not everyone embarks on that journey.
Kaila Pfister, ‘15, graduated from Binghamton University through the accelerated 4+1 masters of public administration program and a bachelor’s degree in history. Pfister turned her dream of exploring after graduation into a reality.
Pfister attended BU for five years for both undergraduate and graduate studies. In the past six years since graduating, she has lived and worked all across the country, from New York to Utah to Hawaii and finally to her current home in Alaska.
During her time at BU, Pfister recalled a sense of panic because she was not quite sure what career path she wanted to pursue.
“In college, I truly did not know what I was going to do with my life,” Pfister wrote in an email. “I remember sophomore year when I had the realization that I would be able to graduate after one more year — excitement set in. But it was quickly followed by sheer terror — I had no plans for after college! That is when I decided to go to graduate school to help narrow down my interests.”
According to Pfister, getting an MPA was one of the best decisions of her life. It connected her with professors that helped her navigate where her passions were. From then on, she knew she wanted to help people and pursued a specialization in nonprofit management.
“Even though I strayed from nonprofit initially by going with the federal government for a while, I’m very happy that every position I’ve done since college has put me in a position to help people,” Pfister wrote.
After graduating, Pfister packed up her life into her car and applied to work as a park ranger at sites across the United States. She has worked at parks such as the Statue of Liberty National Monument in New York, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, or “the Place of Refuge,” in Hawaii, Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, Timpanogos Cave National Monument in Utah and Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
During her time as a park ranger, she led tours on- and off-trail hikes and exploratory talks on topics such as climate change, ecosystem health, cultural practices, immigration and more. Each site required differing responsibilities and roles that kept her engaged.
“At Timpanogos Cave [National Monument], I led off-trail cave explorations, in Denali [National Park and Preserve] we did backcountry hikes for five hours with visitors and at the Statue of Liberty [National Monument], I used to sit in the crown and answer questions for people from all around the world,” Pfister wrote. “It was an enriching and fantastic experience that drastically helped my public speaking, communications and understanding of how to influence people on complicated and controversial topics like climate change and immigration policy.”
Since then, Pfister helped found a nonprofit called the Matthew Potel Foundation. The foundation was created to honor the death of a close friend and fellow BU student, Matthew Potel. During a BU Outdoors Club outing, Potel had fallen in the Trap Dike on Mount Colden in the Adirondack Mountains while attempting to assist fellow members to cross a dangerous ravine.
The Matthew Potel Foundation is a small, volunteer-run organization that helps to connect kids from New York City and Yonkers to venture out of their urban environments and into the outdoors. The foundation also funds scholarships to programs that encourage enthusiasm and curiosity about the natural world as well as running their own programs each season. To learn more, visit matthewpotelfoundation.org.
“I’m incredibly proud of the nonprofit, and even during COVID-19, we’ve continued to connect kids to the outdoors through ‘Zooming to Nature,’ our weekly sessions where our team Zooms with kids and teaches about all sorts of awesome nature topics,” Pfister wrote.
Currently, Pfister works for the only statewide agency in Alaska called Alaska Children’s Trust, which works to prevent child abuse and neglect. The agency mainly focuses on upstream preventative measures, strengthening families and building resilience across Alaska to ensure that all children regardless of race, socioeconomic status and location grow up in safe and supportive families and communities.
She currently works in communications where she writes letters to congresspeople to advocate for early education, design National Child Abuse Prevention Month materials and ensure the agency is disseminating information that promotes healthy situations for children across Alaska.
When she isn’t working, Pfister makes sure to get outdoors as much as she can with her boyfriend and his daughter. During the winter months, she can be found backcountry skiing, cross-country skiing or ice skating after work and on weekends. She also serves as an emergency medical technician (EMT) twice a week, serving Alaska’s homeless population in Anchorage.
“In summer we do huge backpacking trips — this summer we’re headed for nine days of backpacking along the Goat Trail in [Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve] and have several shorter trips planned for glacier exploration and pack rafting,” Pfister wrote. “I fell so in love with this state, its people, its amazing array of Alaska Native cultures to learn from and pay reparations to, and I look forward to calling this my home for decades to come.”
Pfister attributes most of her success to her time and education at BU. During her time at BU, she served as a resident assistant (RA), assistant residential coordinator and an e-board member of the Outdoors Club, which gave her lifelong friendships and her first leadership experiences.
“Before going to [BU], I had gone camping a few times and liked it alright, but never before was I exposed to the amount and variety of activities I did with Outdoors Club,” Pfister wrote. ”I made lifelong friends there, people who still, to this day, come to visit me wherever I live and work! The club helped change me from a city girl very comfortable with the idea of staying in [New York City] forever to the park ranger and explorer I became.”
Her message to current students is to make connections, whether that is establishing close-knit friendships or professional connections.
“My college friends know me better than most, and it can be a lot more difficult to get tight with people after,” Pfister wrote. “Also, get involved in stuff — clubs, sports, [Residential Life]. Take advantage of these opportunities for growth and development, they help with finding employment later in life and make you a well-rounded person.”