A few years ago, the National Park Service looked at its work force and realized it had a problem. Many of the Park Service’s park rangers, the federal law enforcement officers protecting the natural and historic resources of America’s national parks, were approaching retirement age. In the Park Service’s Northeast Region, home to 70 heavily visited parks from Maine to Virginia, about 55 percent of park rangers were set to retire in the next five years.
The Park Service knew they had to find a new generation of young park rangers to replace them. They needed a diverse group of workers with world-class law enforcement training, and they needed tough, well-educated young people who were comfortable committing to a lifelong career of national service — not just in the romantic landscapes of the West, but in the grittier, more densely populated Northeast. But how?
They found the answer at Temple. In 2010, the National Park Service (NPS) and Temple announced the creation of the ProRanger Philadelphia program, a unique partnership that offers 12 to 20 Temple students a year the rarest of commodities in a tight job market: paid summer internships working at national parks throughout the northeast as apprentice rangers, a summer of law enforcement training, special NPS-designed coursework and, upon graduation, a guaranteed full-time job as a park ranger. Less than two years later, the arrival of the next generation of park rangers will officially begin when the first two ProRanger graduates, Giancarlo Graziani ‘11 and Layla Schade ‘11, put on their Stetson hats and report for duty at Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia in October.
For NPS, the partnership with Temple — the only institution in the nation chosen to host the four-year program — has yielded exactly the type of workers they had hoped to find.
“We chose Temple because of the diversity and quality of its student body and because it has one of the nation’s leading criminal justice programs,” said Stephen M. Clark, regional chief ranger for the northeast region of NPS. “We’ve been extremely pleased with the level of integrity, professionalism and enthusiasm shown by the students we’ve worked with. They’re a remarkable group of young men and women.”
The Temple students who have been chosen to participate have had unforgettable experiences as summer interns — some glamorous, some less so. They’ve searched for lost hikers, administered field sobriety tests, patrolled for poachers, done surveillance operations to catch bike thieves, transported bagfuls of donated money, cleaned up hydraulic fluid spills, posted boundary markers, arrested disorderly visitors, re-enacted historical scenes in period costume, stepped between protestors and counter-protestors, made court appearances, set bear traps, scraped away road kill and participated in dozens of traffic stops.
“Not every day is fun,” said Robert Louden, law enforcement operations chief at Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey and New York, and supervisor of sophomore Fallon Roberson-Roby and junior Ryan Maloney in the summer of 2011. “We threw them into the heat of summer every single day. They had to come home exhausted.”
Hardened ranger veterans like Louden were pleased to report that the Temple ProRanger interns didn’t flinch. “I’ve loved every single second of it,” said Sarah Rutter, a sophomore nursing major who served at Independence National Historic Park in 2011. “It has been an awesome experience. I couldn’t have asked for more. I know this is what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life.”
After completing internships in national parks, ProRanger interns spend their final summer as undergraduates in the Seasonal Law Enforcement Professional Development Program at Temple’s Ambler Campus, an intensive 13-week training academy run by Temple’s Criminal Justice Department. Think of it as a cross between law school and boot camp. Trainees learn federal codes and regulations (“a very thick book,” admitted one ProRanger); hand-to-hand tactics; behavioral science; firearms operation and safety; crime scene investigation; emergency vehicle operations; leadership; physical fitness and more. Not everyone completes the academy, but those who survive emerge confident and prepared.
“My internship at Independence in 2010 was cool, but it was getting through the academy this summer that molded me and taught me what it means to be a law enforcement ranger,” said Giancarlo Graziani, who earned a bachelor’s degree in geography and urban studies from Temple in May.
That’s music to the ears of NPS leaders, who look forward to new waves of ProRanger graduates — the nation’s next generation of park rangers — launching their careers at an ever-expanding list of national parks.
“Our goal is to recruit and retain bright, passionate individuals who care about the parks and protecting America’s treasures,” said Stephen M. Clark. “There’s no better place to find and train people like that than Temple.”