Education major finds his path in the National Parks

Senior David Stafford initially wanted to study computer science in college, but he found the right academic fit as an education major at Ohio University Chillicothe. Last summer, Stafford interned at the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, where he had the opportunity to work closely with park rangers, learn more local history, and provide educational programming for park visitors of all ages. That internship helped Stafford discover the career path he hopes to follow. After graduating this spring, he hopes to put his education degree to work in the National Park System.  

“I learned that the Interpretation Park Ranger job was the career I wanted to pursue,” Stafford said. “I'll be aiming for education positions to teach people about our natural resources and cultural history at whichever park I work for.”  

A graduate of Zane Trace High School, Stafford is completing his professional internship at Unioto Elementary School this year and will graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the Patton College of Education.  

Stafford chose Ohio University Chillicothe because it offered an opportunity for him to get his bachelor’s degree at an affordable cost while staying close to home and family.  

He was selected for the Bruce Lombardo Internship, established in 2022 in honor of Bruce Lombardo, a retired teacher, published author, conservationist, and biologist, who worked at the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park as well as several other cultural sites in the area. This annual internship, made possible through a partnership with the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, provides Ohio University Chillicothe students the opportunity to learn and teach about the prehistoric people who lived in this area, create and lead educational programs and youth outreach activities, and support communication and research projects.  

Stafford describes his internship experience at the park as meaningful and memorable. His duties as a park intern varied throughout the season. He began by shadowing park rangers as they led educational programs for school field trips. As he became more accustomed to the park, he began leading parts of educational programs including demonstrating how to use the atlatl, a spear-throwing tool from ancient times.  

“As the season progressed, I got to take full control of giving tours of the park and enjoyed the increased responsibility,” Stafford said.  

In addition to leading tours of the mounds, Stafford also led visitors on nature walks through the woods, which gave him an opportunity to share information about edible plants in the area and their historical context at the site. 

According to Stafford, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a major obstacle in his college career, making it difficult to go into his normal classes or to get into classrooms for observations while schools were going into lockdown or transitioning to virtual classrooms. As students were able to return to campus and their schools, Stafford acted on a renewed desire to get back into the education field and finish his degree. 

Stafford said his internship at the Hopewell Culture Historical Park felt like an adventure every day and he appreciated getting to learn about a broad range of topics through his work with the park rangers.  

“My internship at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park was amazing,” Stafford said. “I learned a lot from the great staff there who were able to mentor me in things like interacting with the public, the history of American Indian culture and how it relates to the sites of the park, and how to make this information relatable to people with varying levels of background knowledge.”  

As he looks ahead to graduation and looks back over his time at OHIO Chillicothe, Stafford said his most memorable class was Lorna Buskirk's Science Methods class which helped him learn about opportunities to share the excitement of discovery with children through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).  

“That class showed me how to share the joy of learning with students and how to make the concepts interesting and relevant to my students' varied perspectives and backgrounds,” Stafford said. 

Stafford said he learned a great deal about the pedagogy and best practices of early childhood education from the education faculty at OHIO Chillicothe, but his most important takeaway was learning to look at issues from different perspectives.  

“I valued getting the chance to analyze problems that communities of people have faced and how best we can make a difference in making things better for them, something that I learned very often begins in education and comes from a place of empathy,” said Stafford. 

The OHIO Chillicothe professors who made the greatest impact on Stafford included Educational Program Assistant Lorna Buskirk and Associate Professor of English Tony Vinci. 

Stafford said Vinci’s classes gave him insight into how people share their viewpoint through their writing and how to analyze a writer's biases and purpose through a critical lens. Being able to read and analyze material with such a critical lens has served Stafford well when reading for pleasure, when reading primary and secondary historical sources during his time at the Hopewell Historical Park, and when reading academic literature for his coursework. 

Some of his favorite memories from OHIO Chillicothe feature gathering outside Bennett Hall with his fellow education majors to discuss plans, share success stories, vent, and decompress after tough tests or long lectures.  

“The friends I've made at OHIO Chillicothe that have persisted throughout my educational career are ones that I value a lot, even when college has gotten crazy and we don't have time to hang out normally,” Stafford said. “I know that I can count on them for support, and they know that I am here for them if they need support or help.” 

March 20, 2023
Staff reports