John Hesdon: Viewing the National Park Service Through the Camera Lens

John Hesdon will graduate with a degree in Film and Media Arts. He will also complete the ProRanger Philadelphia Program

John Hesdon is unique among his fellow Temple owls.

Not only is he a Film and Media Arts major — certainly not unusual at Temple — he’s also a member of the ProRanger Philadelphia program, a partnership between Temple University and the National Park Service to train park rangers. That combination is a first.

“When I was in high school, I really wasn’t sure of my career path. I took a media class, which fostered my interest in film. Temple has a great film program and is affordable, so my next step was clear,” said Hesdon, 22. “My goal at the time was to move to LA and pursue my interest in writing and editing. I didn’t necessarily have a practical plan in mind on how to make that happen, but that was the general idea.”

That’s where ProRanger Philadelphia stepped in.

“I received an email in the spring of my junior year about a great opportunity for a paid internship. While it wasn’t specifically related to my major, I thought I’d give it a shot,” he said. “The worst case scenario was that I would take part in an interesting internship and gain new skills. It turned out that I really loved it.”

The ProRanger Philadelphia program has recently gone through a full curriculum update designed to provide students with even more experience with the National Park Service prior to graduation. In addition to coursework, students complete two summer internships, leadership training camp, a conservation project and the Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program (SLETP) offered at Temple University Ambler.

During the summer of 2015, Hesdon didn’t have to head far for his first National Park Service experience as he became part of the team at Independence National Historical Park right in the heart of Philadelphia.

“Initially, I have to admit, I didn’t know if I would take to it, but the people at Independence are so focused and organized and I was able to learn so much about the area. There are areas of the city that I never realized were part of the National Park System,” said Hesdon, who is president of his ProRanger cohort. “This was also the first time I had worked in the city, which was a great experience in itself.”

Hesdon said he worked with all divisions of Independence National Historical Park, including maintenance, administration and law enforcement. The administrators also put a lot of faith in his abilities to complete important tasks.

“I was placed in charge of an alarms project where we checked and logged alarm functions in essential park buildings,” he said. “I was in these iconic historical buildings — Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center — on my own at night. I was grateful for the experience and that they put their trust in me to complete this important project to ensure the safety of these sites.”

The ProRanger program is open to students from all majors at Temple. While others might not readily see the connection between film and park ranger service, Hesdon recognized overlaps that allowed him to strengthen his skills in both endeavors.

“Organizational skills are essential in both film and in the park service. I like to direct, I like to take charge in certain situations,” he said. “I’d say the overlap is particularly in the personal skills I’ve developed — leadership skills, work ethics, a combination of team work and team building while also being able to problem solve and work through situations on my own. I think each program has helped me improve my skills in the other.”

Historical sites and breathtaking vistas aren’t a bad backdrop for a camera lens either and Hesdon’s next internship location is certainly a showstopper. Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida provides 729,000 acres to work in and learn from.

“Big Cypress is massive and I think it will provide me the best opportunity to try different things from boat patrols to exploring the wildlife to law enforcement. The ProRanger program has given me a new sense of purpose and focus,” he said. “Before, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do; now I’m literally doing something new and interesting every week. I entered the Film Senior Projects course this semester with a new sense of direction.”

After completing his internship at Big Cypress, Hesdon will be returning to Temple University Ambler to complete SLETP training. Ambler is one of only seven institutions in the country to offer SLETP while Temple is just one of two sites to offer the ProRanger program — Temple is the only university to offer both.

With the ProRanger program’s 100 percent placement rate, Hesdon is hoping to ultimately land on the West Coast.

“Ideally I would end up somewhere near Los Angeles so I could really tie my two interests together,” he said. “We’ll see where the program takes me.”