Colin Santee summarizes his experience at Johnson State this way: “I am so lucky – SO lucky!”
Here’s why: He almost chose to attend a large university, but Johnson won him over – and the experiences and opportunities he’s had here would never have happened elsewhere, he says.
Like during the start of his freshman year, when academics wasn’t his biggest focus and his grades started showing it – and his professors called him out and got him back on track. “I started developing these relationships with them,” he says. “I would feel bad if I didn’t do the work or take advantage of the opportunities they gave me.”
So he stepped it up, tapped into those opportunities and had an amazing four years pursuing a double major in Political Science and the Biology, Field Naturalist program. He also served a year as JSC’s student government president, represented the students of Vermont’s five state colleges as a member of the Board of Trustees, lobbied the Vermont legislature to boost funding for higher education, participated in JSC’s Model United Nations, and pursued his passions in hiking, mountain biking and snowboarding at every opportunity.
Best of all, Colin says, he got to work with one of the world’s leading experts in geographic information systems (GIS), JSC instructor Kevin Johnston, who holds degrees from both Harvard and Yale. Since 1990, Johnston has helped develop the premier GIS computer-mapping software used by conservationists and natural-resource managers worldwide.
“JSC has all the software; I learned to use it by taking Kevin’s class, then I landed a part-time job in GIS in [the nearby town of] Stowe,” Colin says. “I did an independent study with him during my junior year – and the following summer he selected me as his research assistant. And because I was his assistant, I got to attend a big conference in Oregon with him and some of best conservation planners in the Pacific Northwest. Kevin was the main presenter. It was amazing!”
While there, Colin not only helped with Johnston’s presentation – modeling the impact of climate-change scenarios on species in the Pacific Northwest – he was introduced to Johnston’s peers from a Yale science panel and professionals with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
As his senior year drew to a close, Colin finished his senior thesis, presented his findings to the public, worked with Johnston to polish his resume, and planned a summer vacation, confident the experiences he’s had and the connections he’s made through JSC would help him land a plum position after his return — and they did. Today he is the director of parks and recreation in his native Fairfax, Vt.
Not too shabby for a guy who got off to a rocky start as a freshman. But as Colin says, he’s a lucky guy.