National Park Service goes back to college to build ranks, diversity

By Joe Davidson
Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Like a good manager, Jill Hawk could see staffing problems looming.

As chief ranger for the National Park Service's northeast region, she knew that about 55 percent of her rangers are eligible to retire in the next five years. With white rangers making up more than 80 percent of her force, there was a clear need for diversity. There's also the problem of Park Service law enforcement rangers in urban areas quitting after a year or two to join other agencies or move to one of the large, rural parks, like Yellowstone.

That's not the scenario she wanted.

So in 2007, she teamed with Anthony Luongo, director of criminal-justice programs at Temple University. It was a good fit. Temple has a nationally ranked criminal-justice program and a student body more diverse than most. Hawk and Luongo developed ProRangers, a different kind of internship program that is designed to attract a broad range of students who might not have considered careers in law enforcement, particularly in an urban national park like Baltimore's Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. This is the first year ProRanger Philadelphia has been in operation. San Antonio College in Texas, a two-year institution, has a similar program.

ProRanger could serve as a model for other federal agencies facing a wave of retirements and wanting to diversify their workforce.

Temple's four-year program includes academic studies, law enforcement training and internships. It attracts students like Tia Solomon, a 20-year-old sophomore from Philadelphia. She has played violin and viola "all my life," she said, adding that "music is my passion."

That may not be the typical background for park rangers who carry guns, handcuffs and the power to arrest. The typical ranger also is not black and female, as is Solomon. So if Solomon completes the program, she will help create a more diverse Park Service in more ways than one. Her youth will help balance the large number of officers who can retire. She will add color to an almost all-white group of rangers. And there probably aren't lots of other law enforcement officers with her musical background.

"It's a great opportunity," she said. "It's one of my big achievements in life: to be a part of this program."

The diversity angle was important to Hawk because her agency's lack of it "does not reflect the areas we serve," she said.

That area includes national parks from Maine to Virginia and West Virginia. The District and certain sites in Maryland and Virginia are in the National Capital Region. Nationally, just 2 percent of commissioned rangers are black, 4 percent are Latino and 18 percent are female.

This summer, Solomon is stationed at Fort McHenry, a star-shaped garrison that juts into the Patapsco River. The Americans' successful fight there to save Baltimore from a British attack in 1814 inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner." It later was set to the music of a British drinking song and became the national anthem.

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