Spotlight Story

19 April 2023

Lorraina Rojas: Inspiring the Next Generation of Trailblazers through Stewardship

Category: Spotlight Story

Lorraina Rojas knew from an early age she wanted to work outside. However, she didn’t have the opportunities to experience outdoor immersion and be exposed to different landscapes other than the ones in her rural community of Truth or Consequences, in New Mexico.

As a Biological Sciences Technician at the Santa Fe National Forest, she knows the importance of giving back to the community, encouraging others, and promoting stewardship with the younger generation. However, she knows it isn’t easy getting to where she is now. Not only is she one of the few students in her high school to pursue a college degree, but also the first in her family. As a proud daughter of a Mexican dad, her heritage also played a part with her mission to be a leader in conservation. She pursued college in Pennsylvania, which gave her a different perspective on her community growing up.

“As a kid, you don’t pay attention to stuff around you, but when you get older you start to learn about climate change, and ecosystems, and you can put a name to everything you’ve seen and experienced in your life. I knew that I wanted to work in natural resource conservation for a long time, probably since high school, but I was finding it really hard to find a way into those agencies that I wanted to work for.”

A couple of months before finishing her degree in earth sciences, she came across a newsletter with an opportunity to work as an intern a program called Resource Assistants Program (RAP), in which fellows help the USDA Forest Service accomplish mission-critical projects as they work to attract and retain a diverse and inclusive workforce. This program falls under the scope of the MANO Project, an initiative of the Hispanic Access Foundation to help build leadership capacity among Latino communities.

She was selected as an intern under the Special Uses unit at the Santa Fe National Forest. Her internship experience was a path for eventually qualifying for the Direct-Hire Authority (DHA), a hiring authority that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) gives to federal land agencies to fill vacancies when a critical hiring need or severe shortage of candidates exists. “I spent a year, my last year of college, just applying to all the student positions, and I didn’t get a single one, but right before I graduated, I saw MANO Project in a job email list and applied to it. I wouldn’t have this position if I had not been through MANO’s Resource Assistance Program (RAP), which put me in with the Forest Service. Thanks to that, I met people in the forest that hosted and helped me get a job at one of their districts. I’m in a different office now, but within the same forest that hosted me as a RAP intern.”

The mentorship aspect of the program made a huge difference for Lorraine. She valued having monthly check-ins to discuss everything, ranging from the living situation to mental health and the projects she worked on. Her experience with the MANO Project was instrumental for building her way into a position with the federal government.

Although she is still early in her career, Lorraina is sure about continuing with her passion for the Forest Service and also about giving a hand to young members of her community wanting to pursue a career in the federal government. As part of her commitment to giving back to her community, she participates in field visits with students from her old high school to encourage them to pursue a career and to learn from her work at the Santa Fe National Forest.

“It is important to pull other people up, especially from your community. I remember individuals who took their weekend time to visit my high school and talk about their careers to inspire others. I try to stay involved in that same process. In two weeks, I’m going to visit my old high school and talk to students that want to be environmental scientists.”

A lover of the tranquility of the mountains and birdwatching, Lorraina paved her way into an exciting opportunity that has already inspired others. As a young leader in conservation, she is making sure others like her have their path clear to be successful.

“For me, being a leader in my field means making sure you do whatever you can to help people along the way and being a good forest steward, so the land is still here for the next generations to come.”

Hispanic Access is inspiring, training, and working with leaders like Lorraina Rojas, who have a stake in their community and have the drive for positive change. To help support and continue this work, please consider making a Charitable Donation

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