CFAES Give Today

School of Environment and Natural Resources


Alumni Career Spotlight: Vanessa Perry

Vanessa Perry, PhD    
Human Dimensions in Natural Resources ‘04   
Planning Director, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Vanessa Perry wearing a gray shirt and smiling with nature and water in the backgroundVanessa earned a degree in Human Dimensions in Natural Resources with a focus on Environmental Planning and Policy from SENR in 2004. During her time in SENR, she was involved in the Westerville Civic Symphony and worked at the Olentangy River Wetland Research Center, the Blacklick Creek Watershed Association and other locations. After graduation, Vanessa later obtained her Master of Science and PhD in Natural Resource Science & Management from the University of Minnesota, where she studied the social dimensions of natural resource decision-making. Vanessa is now a Planning Director at the State of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources.   

Read the full interview with Vanessa:   

A Glance at Vanessa’s Current Work 

I am currently a Planning Director at the State of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources and work on issues across the whole agency. I focus on strategic planning, facilitation, and public engagement issues. The typical day for me includes many meetings and emails. These meetings involve conversations with the top leadership in the natural resources, conservation and outdoor recreation fields in Minnesota in order to tackle some of the major issues that we’re facing in the state. Together, we’re working on finding solutions and thinking forward into the future about what we might be facing and how we might meet those challenges.  

What is the most rewarding part of your job?  

I really enjoy working on large-scale, complex problems and my current job gives me the opportunity to work on those problems and try to think through possible solutions. Within that, I really like working with people to try to match what people value and what experiences they want to have with solutions to natural resource issues. It’s interesting and important to try to pair the biophysical, natural resources challenges that we’re having with people’s values and experiences.  
An example of one of the problems I’m working on is looking at the typical model of funding for natural resources, which currently relies heavily on license sales and user fees. This has become a challenge because it appears that this source of revenue won’t be sustainable in the longer-term for meeting our needs here in Minnesota. As a result, we’re looking for other ways to fund outdoor recreation and conservation in the state by looking at new funding models and thinking about creative solutions that would meet the needs and values that we have. There’s a really strong outdoor ethic in Minnesota. It’s important to investigate how to provide new and different services for new Minnesotans while also maintaining the traditional uses that people expect, and doing that while also thinking about how to have ample funding for it.  

Undergraduate Engagement 

What were you involved in during college?    
I played cello in the Westerville Civic Symphony! I also worked at the Olentangy River Wetland Research Center. In addition, I worked at the Blacklick Creek Watershed Association. In terms of internships and seasonal positions, I did an internship with Ohio EPA one summer as well as worked at the Jorgensen Farm in New Albany. 

What experience do you feel was most valuable in your professional development?    
After I graduated from OSU, I went into the Peace Corps in the Republic of Macedonia and was able to gain experience in the world and perspective that I hadn’t had before. I was able to meet people from all over the US and the world, which ended up being really important. I gained a lot of practical and applicable skills in project management and facilitation, which I hadn’t previously known that I really enjoyed. I still use many of the skills I learned during that time.  

Job Searching

What has been most important to you in your job searches?  
The factors or deal breakers have been really dependent on where I’ve been in my career. For example, I have worked jobs where I was only making $15 a day and housing was provided so in those cases money was clearly not a deal breaker. But then I’ve moved into parts of my career where salary and location were more important. There are also factors that you can’t know from a job description that end up being deal breakers. I have found that a relationship with a manager or colleagues are factors that aren’t apparent in the job description but have ended up causing me to decide a certain opportunity was not a good fit, or made a job worth staying at. Vanessa with a hat and pink blouse with a beach behind her

Overcoming Early Career Challenges  

As the first person in my near family to obtain a four year degree, I had a skewed idea of what college would be like and how to navigate it. I didn’t know support resources existed or even to look for support. I felt really lost at Ohio State, it was such a big school, and while I had achieved in high school, I didn’t know what I was getting into when I went to college. I didn’t really excel academically. I still learned a lot and had many great experiences, but I didn’t come out of my undergraduate experience in a way that set me up as well as I could have. I had to spend many years trying to get my confidence back and it took a long time before I realized why I had been so challenged in that environment. After my undergraduate degree, I worked for 10 years and was able to gain enough experience and success in my professional life that then I was able to feel more confident about going to graduate school. When I went back to school for my graduate degrees, I made sure to take advantage of the resources available and made connections with mentors who were able to guide me through those experiences differently. I thrived in graduate school and have been able to build from that experience to apply my skills in some of the most challenging problems facing our field.  

What advice would you give to someone who is still in college and hoping to do what you do?    

  1. Make sure to take advantage of the resources available to you and form relationships with mentors that can guide you. Don’t assume you should know what you should do – ask! 

  1. Just try a bunch of things! If there’s something you’re interested in, just go for it! As a student, you get a lot of leeway to ask questions and to try things and make mistakes. I think taking advantage of that as a student is a good way to learn what you like to do but also what you don’t like to do. This is a really important time to test some things.  



How to connect with Vanessa:   



Post created June 2021