During a recent week in May, a crisis in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area left a hiker stranded, unable to find their way out of a densely forested 2,800-acre region.
National Park Service rangers and rangers-in-training sprung into action, using search and rescue skills they had methodically practiced to track and locate the hiker and bring her to safety.
Fortunately in the case of this rescue, it was a ProRanger Philadelphia “Leadership Training Camp” training scenario held at the Delaware Water Gap — one of the country’s 413 national parks — designed to put the law enforcement rangers through a test of their training for a time when lives are truly in their hands. The “lost” hiker was Dr. Vicki Lewis McGarvey, Temple University Vice Provost for University College and Program Director for ProRanger Philadelphia. Her rescuers were current ProRanger students under the watchful eye of ProRanger alumni, who are all currently rangers with the National Park Service.
“Leadership camp is held each year not long before the students head out to their first summer internships at national parks all over the country. It’s an opportunity for them to interact with professional National Park Service (NPS) rangers and prepare for the internship and their career after graduation,” said McGarvey. “This year, the students worked on NPS search and rescue certifications and skill building, such as rock climbing, orienteering and creating search grids. Each park comes with its own set of experiences and challenges, but this is all practical information that law enforcement rangers must have.”
The ProRanger program, a partnership between Temple University and the National Park Service to train law enforcement rangers, is offered through University College in cooperation with Temple’s Criminal Justice Training Programs. CJTP also offers the Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program (SLETP) at Temple University Ambler, a key component of ProRanger Philadelphia.
Temple University 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. In addition to coursework, students complete two summer internships, leadership training camp, a variety of weekend training programs and activities and SLETP training, which is the final leg of their journey.
Since its inception, the ProRanger Philadelphia program has enjoyed a 100 percent job placement rate for students that have completed the program successfully. Five ProRanger students who finished their training in December 2016 received permanent placements at Yosemite National Park, Boston National Historical Park, Fire Island National Seashore, Everglades National Park and Shenandoah National Park.
“I think it comes down to the quality and diversity of the students that participate. We’ve had students from a broad range of majors, from engineering to film to horticulture,” said National Park Service ProRanger Program Manager Adrian Fernandez. “We offer a great deal of hands-on training coupled with the two internships — by the time they graduate our students certainly know whether this is the right career choice for them. There is a true demand for law enforcement rangers throughout the country and our ProRanger graduates are very much in demand.”
Since graduating, many of the ProRanger alumni have returned to support the program and act as mentors for current students. Seven ProRanger alumni took part in leadership camp this year, staying for at least a day or two and one staying for the entire week.
“I felt so fortunate to go through the program that I wanted to give something back. As alumni from the program, we were right where the students are right now not that long ago — we’re able to give them honest insight into our experiences, into what to expect from the profession,” said Jordan Keiffer, who graduated with a criminal justice degree and completed the ProRanger program in 2014. He is currently stationed at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. “Spending the week with the new students felt like coming full circle — it’s an opportunity for the students to ask questions that they might not otherwise ask during training. With the alumni, the students are able to see the final product; to sit down, talk and discover what a career as a park ranger can and will be. One day these students could be sitting in the car next to me — it only makes sense to help them get ready to hit the ground running.”
As a self-identified “city kid,” Jessica Cooper never thought a career with the National Park Service was even a possibility before arriving at Temple. Completing the ProRanger program in 2014 and with a newly minted degree in political science in hand, she began her career as a law enforcement ranger for Independence National Historical Park shortly after graduation.
“We have alumni working in Alaska; there are students learning about the National Park Service in St. Croix. How many professions provide such a diversity of opportunities and experiences — the ProRanger program made that possible for us,” she said. “The reason I wanted to take part in Leadership Camp as an alumnus is the same reason I became a ranger — to help people. Many of the alumni work with the ProRanger instructors and administrators to make the program the best it can be based on our experiences in the field. The students have a very special opportunity being part of this program; we want to make sure they get the most out of it.”
As a ranger at the Delaware Water Gap, where training took place this year, Charles Papacostas was right there with the new students during the ropes courses, circuit workouts and law enforcement skills training, “bonding in the dirt and the dust.” Papacostas, who majored in history, completed ProRanger training in 2013.
“I think what we have to share really resonates with the students. At leadership camp, the students haven’t been through their internships yet — they are very curious about what they are going to experience and what they will learn,” he said. “I think it gives us a chance to motivate them, to realize that all the hard work does have a very positive result.”
After completing the ProRanger program in December 2016, John Hesdon, who graduated with a degree in film, is just beginning his next adventure as a law enforcement ranger at Everglades National Park in Florida.
“My Temple experience guided me onto my career path and definitely prepared me for all aspects of the job. As a student, hearing from the ProRangers that went before me was invaluable,” he said. “They are able to provide the students insight from the perspective of someone who has been through the same training, gone through the internships, and likely had the same questions when they were going through the program. I think both the students and the alumni get a lot out of the team building that takes place — you get a clear sense that you are part of something larger, something important.”