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Earth Team Volunteering Leads to NRCS Careers

By Melissa Blair, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist  ♦ April 2020

National Volunteer Week in April is an excellent time to highlight USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) employees in Texas who started their careers as Earth Team volunteers. Gratitude also goes to the NRCS employees who have recruited, mentored, and spent countless hours training and nurturing these volunteers and interns, making a lifetime impact on their futures too. 

David Rosales and Rodolfo “Rudy” Rosales Jr.Brothers and Earth Team volunteers, David and Rudy Rosales check specifications on conservation practice in Laredo.

Brothers David Rosales and Rodolfo “Rudy” Rosales Jr. volunteered in the Laredo NRCS office while attending Laredo Community College. They both feel their volunteering provided the skills and knowledge to apply and qualify for NRCS Pathways internships and the jobs they now have with the agency. The Rosales brothers were hired by NRCS after graduating from Texas A&M University in Kingsville. David was hired in August 2019 as a full time NRCS employee and is now a rangeland management specialist in Decatur. Rudy was hired in 2020 and started the end of March at the Edna NRCS office as a soil conservationist.

NRCS District Conservationist in Webb County and Resource Team Leader Flavio Garza said, “It was a pleasure working with both David and Rudy Rosales, and I hope that I was a positive influence in their lives. Both come from a humble upbringing and could have easily gone in a different direction. I was always impressed with how focused they were in being the first in their family to obtain a college degree. I introduced them to the Earth Team volunteer program and the rest is history. I’m glad we have both the Earth Team volunteer and the Pathways internship programs as vehicles in our recruitment efforts.”

“We have been very fortunate to have Flavio as a great mentor for both of us,” said David. “Besides our parents and grandparents, Flavio and Agustin Luna (technician in Laredo), both have been a great influence in our career journey and continue to inspire us with advice and ideas. We have built a great relationship with them, and I know we can always count on them for any advice.”

Ernesto FavelaErnesto Favelo started his NRCS career as an Earth Team volunteer and today serves as the District Conservationist in Kenedy.

Ernesto Favela started as an Earth Team volunteer in Lubbock in 2013 while attending community college. He wanted to apply for the Pathways internship, but since he was not attending a university he did not qualify.

“I spoke with my advisor at South Plains College in Levelland and he told me a little about the NRCS Earth Team volunteers, so I decided to call the Lubbock field office and they told me more about it,” said Favela. ‘I started volunteering once a week for about a year. After I graduated South Plains College, I transferred to Texas Tech University and applied for the Pathways internship, since I was now eligible.”

Favela started as a Pathways intern in Levelland as a soil and range conservationist for his first summer, and his second summer, he went to Jasper. After graduating from Texas Tech, he worked in April 2017 for a year as the rangeland management specialist in Kenedy. Then he was transferred to Rio Grande City NRCS office for 17 months. He applied and was hired as the district conservationist of the Kenedy field office where he first began his career.  

“Being a volunteer for that year did influence my decision of working for NRCS,” said Favela. “I really enjoyed my time as a volunteer. While I was there, I met great people who helped guide me through school and my career.”

He continued, “As a volunteer I learned that there are many career paths someone can take with NRCS. I first thought of being an agronomist, but once I learned about rangeland management it changed my opinion and my career path.”

His supervisor, District Conservationist in Bexar County and Resource Team Leader Samantha Salinas, said she feels the Earth Team Volunteer Program and Pathways were very good training for Ernesto and prepared him for his NRCS positions and for his leadership role as a district conservationist. 

“His time as an Earth Team volunteer gave him the opportunity to meet the producers that he would eventually provide services to, such as developing conservation plans and creating technical evaluations,” said Salinas. “These services are critical to the client base in the area as they allow the client to make critical decisions that will positively impact their operations.”

Josiah MulvihillJosiah Mulvihill's time as a volunteer and Pathways intern, made him realize he wanted a career in conservation with the NRCS and the Plant Materials Center.

For Plant Materials Center farm foreman, Josiah Mulvihill, he found out about volunteering through the NRCS website. He volunteered during the spring and summer of 2015 at the Waxahachie field office. He completed his Pathways internship in the summer of 2017 in Missouri. The fall of 2017, he worked remotely as a Missouri NRCS Pathways student in the Stephenville office. Then he became a soil conservationist in Missouri for a year and a half before returning to Texas NRCS.  

“Working as an Earth Team volunteer was a great opportunity to see the day-to-day work of the agency, talk with the people about their experiences working for NRCS, see the difference NRCS is making on the land. It made me certain that I wanted a career in conservation with NRCS,” said Mulvihill. “As I got more familiar with the Plant Materials Program, I knew that within NRCS, plant materials was what I really wanted for a career.”

Ramon Saenz IIIRamon Saenz working at the Plant Materials Center in Kingsville during a NRCS video shoot about the Earth Team volunteer program.

Ramon Saenz III started as an Earth Team volunteer in Uvalde in 2013. Then he worked the summer of 2014 as a technician for the Medina Valley Soil and Water Conservation District in Hondo. While attending TAMUK, he participated with the agriculture department’s USDA career internship experience program, working in Uvalde with NRCS District Conservationist Mark Ramirez.

After graduating from TAMUK, Ramon took graduate classes and collected data for a research into cattle grazing effect on plant diversity in south Texas. In November 2017 he accepted the GS-5 rangeland management specialist position in Clarendon. After satisfying time and qualifications for a GS-7, he accepted a position in Amarillo as a GS-9 planner, where he assists NRCS field offices and landowners in six counties.

“The time Ramon spent as an Earth Team volunteer helped him learn the foundation of our agency, while gaining hands-on experience assisting producers,” said Tracy Fischbacher, district conservationist in Amarillo and resource team leader. “The Earth Team volunteer program allowed Ramon to learn about putting conservation on the ground from multiple NRCS personnel in different fields offices. Ramon utilizes the knowledge he obtained as a volunteer to assist local producers in the Amarillo area.”

Veterans: Chris Albanesi and Benjamin HarrisonChris Albanesi learned about volunteering with NRCS through Operation Warfighter and now serves helping NRCS with management and operations to help private landowners conserve the land he fought to protect.

“Texas has had great success with the Operation Warfighter Program,” said Doug Rose, acting assistant state conservationist for management and strategy. “Benjamin Harrison and Chris Albanesi are two great examples. They both started working for us under OWF and were hired using veteran special hiring authority once they transitioned out of the military and continue to do great work for us today. They have stayed with us which shows me that veterans are not afraid of commitment and sticking to it.”   

Operation Warfighter (OWF) is a temporary assignment/internship program developed by the Department of Defense for service members that are convalescing at military treatment Ben Harrison after retiring from the Army, volunteered with NRCS which lead to his NRCS career and also now the work he does is the focus of his masters thesis.facilities throughout the U.S.

After serving 20 years in the Army, Chris learned about the Earth Team volunteer program through Fort Hood’s OWF during his retirement process.   

As a volunteer, Chris was part of the management and strategy staff and worked in vehicle maintenance and management of the state office motor pool for in-state vehicle management-transfers, tracking, accountability, assessments; state office warehouse maintenance and management including archives and storage. Now he also works with cooperative and contribution agreements and the Emergency Watershed Protection Program and watershed agreements.

"Working as an Earth Team volunteer was a great opportunity to understand the NRCS mission while getting to see and experience the day-to-day operations of the agency,” said Albanesi. “It is a great place to work.” 

Benjamin Harrison, retired major from the US Army, served as an Earth Team volunteer in 2017 at the NRCS state office in Temple and Belton field office. NRCS had a hiring freeze when Ben wanted to apply with NRCS, so he accepted a position with another agency.

In March 2018, Rose contacted him about a soil conservation technician position and he readily accepted. Ben reported to the Floresville NRCS field office in June 2018, where he has worked with District Conservationist Jason Katcsmorak and, at the time, Soil Conservationist Stephanie Hayek to learn more about NRCS, conservation planning and soil health. Ben applied and was hired as a soil conservationist at the Arlington NRCS office and will be moving to his new position in April. He is also completing his master’s degree in public administration and will be writing a detailed conservation plan as a thesis.

“There are many successful stories about Earth Team volunteers and Pathway interns, who like these employees, discovered their calling with NRCS while learning hands-on in the field and the office,” said Melissa Blair, NRCS state Earth Team coordinator in Texas. “We encourage NRCS employees to share their experience with us and others like potential candidates, to continue successfully increasing our diverse workforce in Texas and other states.”