The natural beauty of the Prescott area draws many people to the outdoors. Hundreds of miles of trails wind through pine and juniper trees, stretch alongside waterways, and provide a space where one could happen across wildlife in their natural habitat. For some, the natural world is not just a place to play, but also a place where their minds alight with curiosity.
Perhaps the movement of animals, insects or birds draws their attention. Or maybe they are concerned about precious and necessary water resources. The solid earth itself might speak to their soul, summoning them to investigate rocks and minerals. Whatever the calling, the dedicated staff of GEM Environmental aims to help connect students with interests like these with experiences, training and opportunities to help prepare them for workplaces related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through its new workforce development program, GEM Corps.
Eric Welsh, founder and executive director of GEM Environmental, was first drawn to geology after dropping a difficult biology course and deciding to take an “easy” science class at Yavapai College. That Geology 101 course with Dr. Beth Boyd ended up sparking a lifelong interest that eventually led to a Bachelor of Science degree in geology from Northern Arizona University.
As he built his career in geology, Welsh noticed that individuals would hire into the Bureau of Land Management without adequate training or knowledge to do their jobs. With this gap in mind, he envisioned a program that would allow students to gain necessary training and certifications while going through school. Through this program, not only would students have practical resume experience at graduation, but they could also hold longer term internship opportunities postgraduation, and more easily bridge into the workplace.
From this dream, GEM Environmental, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was born. Welsh stated, “my goal is to have opportunities, not just in the realm of geology but in many STEM fields, for students to work their way up and eventually become staff scientists for GEM as well as the federal and state agencies we partner with.” He adds that he envisioned offering biological, cultural and other scientific or conservation project opportunities. In addition to practical experience, GEM is able to help support students in STEM fields with various academic scholarships.
Though Welsh is both the founder and executive director, GEM thrives under a strong team, each member supporting and shaping the organization’s direction.
Project Manager Ashley McDonough comes from a background in the restaurant industry, but was ready to move on to where she could “be a part of something that was positive and would actually improve people’s lives.” She says working for GEM has given her the freedom to learn and explore new skills while providing opportunities to step out of the office in support of the GEM mission.
Former team member Kassie Henrikson worked with GEM through AmeriCorps VISTA as a program coordinator in 2021 and 2022. This position is easily customized to the interests of the individual. Having worked with an all-women student conservation association crew in Chicago doing restoration and habitat work, and with a background in environmental studies, Henrikson thrived in her position at GEM. During her time there she took over the education and outreach aspects of the organization, and was involved in many community partnerships, including with the Community Nature Center, where she helped with weekly conservation and science programming.
She also partnered with the Prescott Public Library in its Geology Talks series, where speakers discuss topics like water stewardship in mining, eruptions at the Valles Caldera in New Mexico, petrography and more.
After Henrikson’s assignment with GEM ended, the position was recently filled by Ryder Moreno, who is equally passionate and ready to both shape the organization’s evolving role and build community partnerships. GEM welcomes volunteers to help with community projects and events. Opportunities include joining citizen-science programs to help with observations of seasonal changes in plants and other aspects of nature, park clean-ups, fundraising, working in the rock shop and other community projects and events.
Visit gemenvironmental.org to learn more about GEM Environmental, GEM Corps, STEM scholarships, volunteer opportunities, and how to donate.