Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Chosen Path Revealed; Epic Spring Break Adventure

The Girls: Shannon, Me, Anjoli, Lindsay, and Troxler; Cocoa Beach, Florida 03.2007

In the beginning of building this site I have given you some background information on how my interest evolved in Marine Biology over the earlier years of my life. I am sure that more articles will appear in the future, but for now it is time to reveal the chosen path that has led me to where I am now. 

During 2007 I was faced with one of the most important decisions in my life. “Where do I go from here?” I was in my super senior year (I love this term!) and was pursing my Wildlife & Fishery Science degree: Fishery Option and two minors in Biology and Marine Science.  Not to mention that I was in a Panhellenic Sorority: Phi Mu. I was desperately looking for a connection to place me in the field of my interest. I even contemplated asking my sorority sisters if they knew any Phi Mu alumna in the Environmental Field. I was determined to find a “real” job outside of Pennsylvania. I was not 100% sure where to start applying first, but I thought that I would start with Florida. I needed to find a way to place my foot in the door. I was hoping that all the sorority community events, clubs that I participated in, and “hands on experience” projects that I accumulated during my undergrad would help me land an amazing job opportunity in the Marine Field. 

I became really focused that year emailing research companies worldwide; I even applied to a few in the UK. I was not receiving many responses, but I was determined to not give up! I knew that if I could just get 1 interview out of the 50 that I was applying for, then I would be one step closer to reaching my ultimate goal: Become a successful international field Marine Biologist. Of course, this is a lot easier said than done! Lucky for me and my fellow PSU classmates’ spring break was coming up right around the corner! I juggled several “typical” spring break locations back and forth; trying to decide where my good friends and I wanted to travel to. Before spring break arrived, I spent the previous month emailing more companies and attempting to answer the life-puzzling question that seemed to haunt me. “Where do I go from here?” Should I inquire about a job with the Fish & Game Commission in Pennsylvania or could I challenge myself to work and live on the West Coast for a few years?   

The girls - Shannon, Anjoli, Lindsay, Troxler, and I decided on a warm tropical location and a place where you can have beach, beer, and sand literally at your fingertips! As they were determining the destination for spring break, I was busy emailing Florida Environmental companies and trying to set up some interviews for my birthday month of May. Ironically, all of my replies regarding interview dates were located in Florida and the girls’ final decision on where they wanted to spend their spring break... FLORIDA! I penciled in 4 interviews during our spring break and starting making final preparations for the big road trip! I found myself driving my black 2 door 97’ Honda Civic with 4 other girls riding with me and luggage packed in every corner of my car! To this day, I still have no idea how you can comfortably fit 3 girls in the back seat of that tiny “sporty” Civic?  I suppose we were all filled with a drive for adrenaline! Needless to say, this would be an epic adventure! D The girls and I drove 18 hours to arrive in the city of Cocoa, Florida. My uncle Matt lived in Cocoa and we decided to stay with him for the first 2 days of our trip. 

As soon as we arrived at my uncle’s place, we ran inside and immediately freshened up to hit the beach! I recall 4 red bulls later, 0 hours of sleep (we were all too excited to sleep as soon as we entered Florida state!), and sheer adrenaline pumping out of my system crammed with excitement. The girls already jam packed themselves in my car again and were anxiously awaiting our trip to Cocoa Beach, Florida; this was about 20 minutes down the road. I knew I had several interviews in the morning and one of the offices was located pretty close to where I was. I convinced the girls to come with me and double check my interview time for my first morning appointment at Ecoes Environmental Consulting. To my surprise, I pulled into a small brown complex with various little shops surrounding some trees in the parking lot. I noticed a woman standing behind the trunk of her van pulling out some boxes. The girls decided to check out the surf and ice cream shops nearby; I headed towards the woman to ask her where Ecoes was located. While I made my way to her direction to politely ask where the office was located, I thought to myself how great it would be to live down here. My uncle is literally right down the street and the beach is only a few minutes away. I would love to live near the beach and see the incredible sunrises over the powerful blue oceanI have longed for this moment. I would definitely be in heaven! 

I finally reached the woman and asked about the office location. As she was picking up the last box she mentioned that she was headed to the Ecoes building.  She quickly put down the boxes and introduced herself as Mary Jo the owner of Ecoes Consulting! You should have seen the look on my face; I did not know whether to smile or kick myself in the butt for not knowing this sooner! Either way, I tried to make the best first impression. I was about to mention my name when she said, “You must be Jessica Benford from the Pennsylvania State University, from the sound of your emails you want to become a respectable Marine Biologist.” I quickly felt my heart sink into my chest; how did this woman know who I was? Better yet, how did she remember my name? I felt a huge grin on my face as I replied, “Wow, it is great to finally meet you.” She gave me a huge smile back and asked if I would accompany to her office. I asked to carry one of her boxes, which seemed to please her. We walked towards her small corner office and I placed the boxes on the desk. I looked around and saw a few articles of Marine Mammals hanging on the wall. In the corner I recognized a large projector screen that dropped down next to what appeared to be a classroom. I thanked Mary Jo for taking the time to let me see her office. As I was about to turn around and head outside, she told me to call her MJ and if I had a few more minutes to discuss the position that she had offered me. At this point, I was ecstatic! I felt like a kid on Christmas morning that discovered her first toy (the kind of toy that you “actually” wanted!).

Celebration Drinks at Local Pub; Cocoa Beach, Florida 03.2007

I explained that I have some friends waiting outside and that if I could go tell them that I would be a few minutes, then I would love to sit down and talk with her about the job opportunity.  She agreed; I ran outside with this massive grin on my face and a brush of exhilaration overcoming my body. It took a minute or two to catch my breath; I then explained to the girls that I need a few more minutes with MJ. They all seemed to look at me quite puzzling and asked all at once, “Who’s MJ?” As I took off towards the office and rounded the tree hanging next to the sidewalk, I yelled back, “I will tell you later!” I reached the office and MJ had opened the door for me. I noticed a series of papers sitting on the desk. Here I am dressed in flip flops, board shorts, and a tank top about ready to be interviewed by a woman company owner and well-respected Marine Biologist who actively participates in Endangered Species Conservation for the United States. I excused my wardrobe as she chuckled and expressed that it was the perfect outfit for this job. I did not know quite what to think about that, but I sat down and eagerly looked forward to our discussion. 

MJ pulled out my recent CV that I emailed her a few days ago. As she was skimming through it, she made a few great comments under her breath. After we talked for 15-20 minutes, she printed a document off of her computer and asked me to read over it quickly. The first line read, “WELCOME TO ECOES ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTING, YOU HAVE BEEN SELECTED TO WORK FOR THE OIL & GAS INDUSTRY ON VARIOUS PROJECTS WORLDWIDE!” I almost fell out of my chair! Seriously, am I being hired as a Marine Mammal Scientist? Did I just get this job? Does this mean that I am moving to Florida? MJ gazed upon me and asked me what I thought about this position. I responded in a very enthusiastic voice, “I would thoroughly enjoy working for you and your company.” She seemed really pleased with my answer. We discussed my starting date, my potential moving date to Florida, my job description in further detail, and the date of my graduation from PSU. I could not believe that I was presented a job on the spot! This NEVER happens to me! Random fact, I worked for my grandfather’s restaurant in Pennsylvania and he did not offer me the job right away; he called me a few days later to tell me that I could start working for him! 

A Local Pub near the Beach; Cocoa Beach, Florida 03.2007

After MJ and I had finished our discussion, I thanked her many times before walking out of her office. We both agreed to keep in touch and her final words to me were, “I look forward to having you on my team.” What a great morning! A rush of emotions of enthusiasm and happiness seemed to take over my body and all hit me at once. I found the girls eating ice cream next to my car. I excitedly starting jumping up and down; their faces were priceless! I told them the good news and they started jumping around the parking lot with me! I remember the girls saying how proud they were of me; which showed me the tremendous support and great friends that I have in my life.  We drove to Cocoa Beach and grabbed a parking spot in front of a local surf shop. We decided to celebrate spring break PSU style! Beach, beer, sand, and volleyball were all involved; it was a great afternoon. I called all of my friends and family back home spreading the good news. One important moment that I remember within the mist of all the excitement was the phone call I had with my mom. I am glancing at the ocean, listening to the waves crash into the rocks, and hypnotized in a mental stage of utter bliss. This would be the new place that I would soon call home. I finally knew “Where I am going from here!”
Police to the Rescue; Cocoa Beach, Florida 03.2007

Quick recap of Spring Break: Ironically, I met my “future” roommate playing beach volleyball; Matt worked for the Kennedy Space Center and was looking to fill his extra room in his condo for the summer. Disneyland, Fort Lauderdale (or my personal favorite Fort Liquordale), and Jacksonville were all part of the girls and I’s “typical” spring break. We all had a fabulous time, especially with the never ending celebration week of my Marine Biologist position in Florida! In the end I decided to cancel all other interviews that I had originally planned and accepted MJ’s offer that week in Florida. Despite the unfortunate event of spring break – my car was keyed due to the coverage of PSU stickers on it (least this is what the cop said), it was an epic spring break and one that will be remembered for the rest of my life