How I Became Marketing Director for Delaware State Parks

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.

Today, I’m going to tell you the story of how all of that happened, and how I got to where I am today.

I expected to be in Delaware for 13 weeks, and 4 years later, I’m still here! It has been a wild and wonderful four years since I entered this state for the first time!

Here’s the full story:

College

I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, 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 Penninsula of Michigan. I realized that while I liked nature, I did NOT want to do field research.

That’s me on the far right! This was taken during the summer that I did environmental field research in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

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% 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 5th 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. Well, just you wait…

 

After Graduation

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, Delaware. I clicked over to the Delaware State Parks internship page and quickly scrolled through internships at different parks. I found a park called “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. But 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.

This part is important. 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 was going to be living in a cool park, so why not take photos while I’m there?

 

Interning at Cape Henlopen State park

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/week, but I lived in a little cottage in the park and would walk to the beach every night after work.  I fell in love with the park, the beach, and my job. I had a firsthand view to facilitate people having meaningful experiences with the natural resources I had come to love so much. I saw people touch a fish for the first time, learn about how the park was formed, and spot dolphins off the shore. I’ll always remember when I got to lead a seining program for a group of young adults from a juvenile detention center who had never been to the beach.

This is me during my first summer at Cape Henlopen State Park! I got to work at a tabling event at the Rehoboth Farmer’s Market.

This is me leading a seining program for a group of kids. We would take this net into the Delaware Bay and catch critters.

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 was so excited!

I also started photographing the educational programs and wildlife at the park and posting about it.

This is the first photo of mine that was posted on the Cape Henlopen State Park Facebook page. I was so excited, and it got lots of likes!

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. (note: in the park system, “seasonal” means that you work year-round indefinitely, but you are paid hourly and don’t get benefits). 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.

 

Central Office-Marketing Assistant to No One

I moved from Cape Henlopen State Park to the state’s capital, Dover, and was miserable for the first 6 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 6 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. On top of that, I realized that there was no marketing director at the time, so I was a marketing assistant to no one. 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.

However, 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% and Facebook by 34% in just a year.

About 6 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 also got a cat!

I continued photography and started getting inquiries for portrait sessions and weddings, which lead me to start my own photography business.

 

Marketing Director

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. Then, I interviewed for the marketing director position and got it. I was 24 years old at the time and had absolutely no formal marketing training. It was wild. Then I got to hire my own marketing assistant.

My past assistant/Marketing Specialist, Alex Huey, and I covering an event for social media at Delaware Seashore State Park.

 

Now

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.

It is my literal job to tell people about Delaware’s natural, cultural, and historic resources. 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. Now I get to help people have their own meaningful experiences with the outdoors. 

I thought I would be in Delaware for 13 weeks, and 4 years later, I’m still here. I love this little state, and I’m so thankful for the journey that has led me here!

 

Behind the Scenes

Here are some behind the scenes photos of what it’s really like to work for Delaware State Parks! Thank you to all of the truly amazing Delaware Parks Staff who have made this state and this organization feel like home. <3

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I'm Abby, an arthritic introvert living in Delaware and traveling the world with a chronic illness, a camera, and a love for ice cream. I'm passionate about outdoor adventures, and overcoming obstacles to make those adventures accessible.

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