Growing up in Chicago, Ill., Lisette Perez said she didn’t have many opportunities to explore the outdoors during her formative years. When she chose the natural resource science and management degree program at the University of the Missouri, the outdoors suddenly became her classroom.
“I definitely took a chance choosing a degree that I wasn’t completely familiar with, but I knew I wanted to go for it,” Perez said. “Little by little, I learned what I was passionate about within the program. I met so many great faculty, especially in CAFNR, who helped me find amazing opportunities to immerse myself in this new world.”
Perez, who graduated in December 2021, chose the human dimensions emphasis area within the natural resource science and management degree. That specialty links natural sciences with social sciences to address questions about how people impact natural resources.
“When I was young, the outdoors seemed incredibly scary,” Perez said. “Mizzou offered me the opportunity to experience the outdoors in an interesting way. While we spent plenty of time in actual classrooms, we also spent time a lot of time outside, where we studied nature in many forms, including wildlife and plants.
“I found that I really enjoyed learning about the intersection of people and the environment. Being able to connect people to the outdoors was something I found extremely rewarding.”
Along with forging connections with people through the outdoors, Perez also found a passion for serving other students at MU, especially underrepresented students. She worked with the Multicultural Center, as well as served through TRiO and the CAFNR Inclusivity and Diversity Committee.
As a TRiO ambassador, Perez provided academic and career guidance for first-generation students at MU – something she was familiar with as a first-generation student herself.
“Trying to navigate college was definitely challenging at times,” Perez said. “I knew what I signed up for, but there was a major difference between visiting campus and actually being on campus as a college student. I also paid for college myself, so I had to figure out my finances from the very beginning.
“I had a great support system and built great relationships in CAFNR. That group helped me be successful when I didn’t always believe in myself. I tried to be involved and offer my support to students going through the same situations, too. I had been in their shoes and it was always rewarding to see their development.”
In her role as a member of the CAFNR Inclusivity and Diversity Committee, Perez helped determine the specific needs of underrepresented CAFNR students and stakeholders, as well as helped develop a philosophy statement and working plan to guide CAFNR in its aspiration to become a more diverse and inclusive college.
“My goal was always to help Tigers, both current and future,” Perez said. “Being a first-generation student and a woman of color in STEM, it was important for me to try and leave a mark for future Tigers who felt lost as first-generation students or as the only woman of color in the classroom. Feeling burnt out, the imposter syndrome cycle – those are real feelings that are important to work through.
“It’s the people you meet who make the college experience worthwhile, and I tried my best to be there for students in need.”
Since graduation, Perez has been able to build on her passions for connecting with people. She recently completed an internship in Alaska focused on sharing educational information about nature with the general public.
Perez was an interpretation ranger at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Juneau, Alaska. The site, managed by the federal government through the United States Forest Service, allows individuals to explore wildlife and nature through numerous scenic walking trails. Perez was in charge of several educational opportunities, including creating presentations for the public. She shared information about a wide variety of topics, such as the wildlife in the area, as well as the natural and cultural history tied to the glacier.
“I really wanted to find an opportunity to gain professional experience,” Perez said. “This internship allowed me to gain experience and skills in the specific areas I was interested in. I loved speaking with the public and there were a lot of networking opportunities while I was there. It was definitely a leap of faith, but I’m glad that I went for it.”
Perez is currently back home in Chicago, working for the Field Museum. Perez serves as a region program assistant with the natural history museum, where her job is focused on reaching out to various communities about environmental education and opportunities. She said she is hoping to find a full-time position doing similar work.
“Coming to Mizzou was definitely worth it, as it showed me where my interests lie,” Perez said. “These two recent experiences confirmed that, too. I’m thankful for the faculty from CAFNR who are still in my corner and are continually supporting me on this journey.”