Editor’s Note: Abby Shepard is native of Clayton and a 2012 graduate of Northmont High School. She attended the University of Notre Dame where she graduated from in 2016. She has been working for the state of Delaware State Parks for four years. Here is her story of she got that position.
I took an internship in Delaware right after I graduated college. In less than two years, I went from intern to marketing director at age 24 with no formal marketing training.
I expected to be in Delaware for 13 weeks, and four years later, I’m still here! It has been a wild and wonderful four years since I entered this state for the first time!
I grew up in Clayton, and I always really liked nature, art, and animals.
I went to college at the University of Notre Dame where I started by majoring in environmental science with the intention of going to medical school. Around my sophomore year, I realized that I really missed art and creativity, and I didn’t actually like science enough to continue the pre-med track and go to med school. I wanted to help people, but I realized I could do that in other ways besides being a doctor.
I still liked nature, so I kept the environmental science degree, but added a minor in industrial design (aka product design) and stopped the pre-med track.
The summer after my sophomore year, I spent a summer doing field environmental field research in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I realized that while I liked nature, I did not want to do field research.
After I got back to campus from that summer, I lowered my environmental science major to a supplementary major, switched from a Bachelor of Science to a Bachelor of Arts, and switched my primary major to Industrial Design.
I loved being a design major and knew that’s what I wanted to keep doing. I had enough credits to keep an environmental science supplementary major, but at this point in college, I really dove into design and spent probably about 80 percent of my time focusing on design classes.
The summer before my senior year, I took an unpaid internship in the marketing department of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance, a performing arts organization in my hometown. I learned so much that summer and had the opportunity to help with the organization’s social media, create graphics, and assist with large marketing campaigns.
When I got back to campus, I realized didn’t really want a career in product design, and I was honestly behind in the classes because I switched pretty late in my college career. My senior year, I changed my major again from industrial design to visual communication design (graphic design). Yes, I switched my major my senior year. I contemplated staying a fifth year to really round out my design degree.
I chose to graduate and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communication Design with a supplementary major in Environmental Science. Everyone I talked to thought that was a weird combination of majors and wanted to know what I was going to do with them.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation, but I didn’t want a real, full-time job. I had always wanted to work as a naturalist, and I thought it would be fun to work at a beach, nature center, or zoo for a summer before getting a “real job.”
Near the end of my senior year of college, I was looking through the job board for the National Association of Zoos and Aquariums and I saw an internship with Delaware State Parks at the Brandywine Zoo in Wilmington, Del. I scrolled through internships at different parks. I found Cape Henlopen State Park.
In the position description, I remember seeing the words “beach” and “kayak tours.” That’s all I remember, but I put in an application for that park. A few days later, I had a phone interview and then got the internship. I had never been to Delaware and knew virtually nothing about the park. In fact, I had really wanted a different internship in Maryland that I didn’t get. I accepted the internship at Cape Henlopen and was going to move to Delaware for a 13-week summer internship. Little did I know, that internship would quite literally change my life.
Right before I moved to Delaware, I bought my first DSLR camera. I had never taken a photography course, but I thought that if I had a camera, I could probably take some decent photos.
I loved interning at Cape Henlopen. I got to lead programs like seining, ghost crab walks, kayak tours, dolphin watches, fish feeding, etc. I made $100 per week, but I lived in a little cottage in the park and would walk to the beach every night after work.
Throughout the summer, I was also learning to use my new camera and taking photos of the park. Eventually, I asked my boss if I could help manage the park’s Facebook page. I think he was a little skeptical, but he said ok.
A few weeks later, the staff member who was running the park’s Facebook account left. Suddenly I was completely managing and running the park’s Facebook account, which had about 15,000 followers at the time. I made one of my photos the cover image for the account, and it became the most-liked photo on the park’s Facebook page.
I also started photographing the educational programs and wildlife at the park and posting about it.
At the end of that summer, I was offered two jobs: a seasonal naturalist at the park where I was working, or a seasonal “marketing assistant” position in the central office of Delaware State Parks. I really wanted to stay at Cape Henlopen, but I knew that I could make a bigger impact if I took the job in the central office. I knew that as a naturalist, I was limited to impacting the 30 or so people each day who signed up for the programs that I lead. In the central office, I would impact so many more people each day.
When I called to accept the marketing position, I started crying because I didn’t want to leave Cape Henlopen, but it was the right choice.
I moved from Cape Henlopen State Park to the state’s capital, Dover, and was miserable for the first six months. I wasn’t making enough to afford an apartment in Dover, so I lived in a room in a co-worker’s house for the first six months I lived in Dover. I had never met her, but I didn’t have another option because I didn’t know anyone in Dover.
I missed the beach terribly and I missed my old job. I planned to move back to Cape Henlopen when they started hiring naturalists for the summer.
After a few months in the central office, a new marketing director was hired. Her name was Madi, and she made a huge difference in my life at the time. We worked together so well and had so much fun together. She overhauled the marketing department, and I finally had some kind of direction and purpose.
I took over management of all social media for the central Delaware State Parks accounts and worked on other digital marketing projects like email marketing, digital ads, photography, partnerships, etc. I started an initiative called InstaMeets, planned styled photoshoots, and grew the Delaware State Park’s Instagram by 150 percent and Facebook by 34 percent in just a year.
About six months after I started in the central office, the Division made my position full-time, which was a big deal and doesn’t happen very often in state government. I now had a salary and benefits, so I got my own apartment in Dover.
I continued photography and started getting inquiries for portrait sessions and weddings, which lead me to start my own photography business.
I only worked with Madi for a little over a year before she left to pursue her own business. When she left, I became the acting marketing director.
I’m still the marketing director for Delaware State Parks, and I really love my job. Now I oversee social media for all Delaware State Parks, all photography/videography, digital ads, media buying, branding, some graphic design, exhibits, trade shows, partnerships, email marketing, and more. I’ve been to every single Delaware State Park. Now, when I tell people what I majored in, they aren’t confused anymore.
I truly believe that marketing can be the gateway for people to learn about the outdoors, have meaningful outdoor experiences, and ultimately care about natural resources and become stewards of the resources. My experiences with nature have changed my life for the better.
I love this little state, and I’m so thankful for the journey that has led me here.
By Abby Shepard