Alumni Spotlight—Grace Merrett
- Alumni Spotlight
- Grace Merrett
- College of Applied Health Sciences
- Recreation Sport and Tourism
- University of Illinois
Alumni of the College of Applied Health Sciences have myriad career options thanks to the tremendous diversity of programs. We periodically will put the spotlight on an alum to find out what they're doing now, what experiences they had and what AHS means to them. This week, we talk to Grace Merrett, who graduated in 2018 from RST with a focus on recreation management and now works as a garden and cooking educator for two elementary schools in the San Diego area. She is pursuing a Master’s degree in Education at the University of Washington.
Q. Why did you pick AHS?
A. The majors in AHS center around serving others; I picked this college because I knew it would allow me to be surrounded by students and professors that cared deeply about taking care of their people. The small class sizes and ample group projects allowed me to build a deep and wide network of funny, intelligent, and loving friends and mentors that I am super thankful to still have today.
Q. When did you graduate and with what degree?
A. August of 2018 with a degree in Recreation Management, minor in Horticulture, Certificate in Leadership
Q. Which professors had the most impact on you?
A. Robyn Deterding and Jonathan Hicks: These professors really saw their students as people and genuinely cared about my passions and accomplishments. They were incredibly thoughtful and intentional about the content they taught and were able to foster classes that felt more like communities.
Q. What course did you most enjoy?
A. I found so much joy in a course called “Children and Nature,” which focused on the importance of green space for kids. Our final project was to create a program for kids in the outdoors. Mine was creating a garden bed that included all of the ingredients you would need to make salad (tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, onion, jalapeños). Fast-forward three years, and I was able to actually facilitate this lesson as a garden educator! Over the course of three months, we learned about what seeds need to grow, parts of the plant that we eat (did you know the part of celery that we eat is actually the stem?!), and gained knife skills in cutting our tomatoes and de-seeding our jalapenos to create what was seriously the most delicious salsa I’ve ever had. I was smacked in the face with real world experience during my time in the Community Recreation Planning course. We were tasked with partnering with a small town to facilitate a SWOT (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats) analysis, and then put together a proposal to the town’s mayor on our recommendations. I was part of the leadership team for a parking lot-to-park renovation. Through this, I was able to explore my passion for graphic design by creating a digital 3-D model of our vision, and I lived out my once-dream of being a landscape architect, as I was responsible for choosing the specific trees and flowers that would best flourish in the space. AHS allows for so many opportunities for cross-discipline exploration!!
Q. Did you enter AHS knowing your career path, or did AHS help you decide?
A. I did not enter AHS knowing my career path—all I knew is that I liked being outside and working with people. My professors and advisors (shout out Patty and Lori Kay Paden!) encouraged me to reflect on other aspects of work I enjoy and I included “creating programs” and “hands-on work” to my list of things I like. Because of their encouragement to self-reflect, I sought out work with the National Park Service and worked 2 seasons as a park ranger and fell in love with informal education in the outdoors. I plan to go to graduate school in the fall to develop my educational philosophy and techniques.
Q. What is your current job?
A. After being a park ranger at Canyonlands National Park, I made my way to San Diego, Calif., where I work as a garden and cooking educator for two elementary schools. This upcoming fall I will be pursuing a Master’s degree in Education at the University of Washington to develop my educational philosophy and techniques.
Q. What was your favorite on-campus experience?
A. I have super-fond memories of eating Auntie Anne pretzels on the blue tables outside of the union, laughing the days away with my friends while colorful leaves sweeping across the union patio.
Q. What does AHS mean to you?
A. To me, AHS means dedication to improving communities through providing essential wellness opportunities.