Update from the Chair

AIC News Network Column, January 2022

A Brief History of ECPN
It’s been over 10 years since the founding of the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN). Those involved in establishing ECPN are now mid-career professionals and current emerging conservation professionals (ECPs) were likely completely unaware of the group or even the field of conservation back when the network began. This brief article aims to outline ECPN’s origins and reflect on the initial goals of the group compared to current goals and initiatives, in light of how the world and field has changed in the last decade.

Founding of ECPN
The Emerging Conservation Professionals Network was formed out of a clear need for support of early career professionals within AIC. Despite some scholarship and mentorship offerings, ECPs were frustrated by the limited number of resources available to early career professionals. Additionally, there was no structure or representation within AIC that elevated the voices of young professionals, beyond some student roles within other groups and committees. With the rise of early-career focused groups in other organizations (AAM, CCI, and ICOM), AIC was also looking to create a student network. In 2007, a small group of students— including founding members Rachel Penniman, Laura Brill, and Amber Kerr—began working with AIC staff members Ryan Winfield and Ruth Seyler to establish an official emerging professional group. At the 2007 AIC Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, an informal meeting was held at the conference hotel with ECPs and AIC staff to gauge interest and to hear some of the current issues and frustrations among ECPs. Those who attended the meeting expressed concern and frustration over the financial struggles of unpaid internships, the grueling graduate school application process, the limited number of fellowships and paid opportunities for students and recent graduates, and the low salaries associated with fellowships and contracts.

Within a few months of that meeting, AIC staff and interested ECPs determined the needs of the network and the formation of its structure, which eventually mirrored that of the AIC specialty groups. The network was provided with both an AIC Board liaison and an AIC staff liaison, and these liaisons offered support and guidance as the group took shape. One of the biggest challenges in the early days was aligning expectations between the ECPs and the organization, but ultimately, the early growing pains developed into a thriving, autonomous network within AIC to support and respond to the needs of the increasing number of emerging professionals in conservation.

Goals and Purpose: Then and Now
To compare the initial goals of the network’s founders with our current goals, we looked back at early blog posts, posters, and surveys, and contacted officers who served during that time. It became clear that ECPs today are still very much concerned with the same issues and are pursuing similar goals as the founders. Since its inception, ECPN has been advocating on behalf of and supporting the inclusion of emerging professionals within AIC. ECPN has been a place to promote collaborative projects and future internships and jobs. ECPN has provided a community to discuss internship access and experiences, to provide portfolio support, to encourage and assist with mentorship, and to create community-specific programming like workshops, webinars, and lectures.

In interviews with founding member Amber Kerr, she spoke emphatically of the founders’ desire to inspire and encourage more established professionals to help those earlier in their careers, but also foster the professional growth that established professionals find by working with emerging professionals. The community was meant to foster professional reciprocity and collaboration. Today, this reciprocity is reflected in the various mentorship programs, networking events, and ECPN programming at the AIC Annual Meeting.

The founders also wanted to increase accessibility to the field and to include non-AIC members in ECPN events and communities such as the ECPN liaisons and ECPN’s Facebook group. This is still true of ECPN today; there are no dues to join and anyone can be a community member regardless of their affiliation with AIC. Providing access to ECPN resources for these early-stage individuals has established ECPN as an inclusive network and it helps to broaden the reach of AIC as a supportive member organization.

ECPN Today
Today, ECPN officers continue to expand initiatives and content in response to member feedback. In over 10 years, ECPN has been formally involved with three mentorship programs, including our most recent partnerships with HBCUs and CIPP. We’ve created over 18 webinars, including a three part series on social justice last year in collaboration with the Equity and Inclusion Committee (EIC). In 2019 we launched a two-part podcast on conservators combating climate change. We have over 8,000 members on our Facebook page and 4,800 active participants in the AIC Higher Logic Community. Last year we authored the lead article in AIC News discussing how the pandemic has only amplified many of the issues and concerns ECPs have with the future of the field and their futures within it. 

In expanding the liaison program beyond the graduate programs, we have opportunities for representation in over 50 regions around the US, each of the AIC specialty groups, and other AIC groups, committees, and networks. This representation is incredibly important, given that issues like health and safety, sustainability, diversity/equity/inclusion, and others affect ECPs just as much as anyone in the field, and also for the leadership opportunities these liaison positions provide. ECP voices and perspectives are crucial for the continued evolution and growth of AIC as an organization. From the most-recent Membership Designation Working Group proposal, to strategic planning and future Code of Ethics revisions, the AIC Board and other AIC leaders are turning to ECPs for our perspectives and experiences. As an active, creative, energetic, and productive group, ECPN is vital to AIC.

Thank you to all those who were involved in the founding of this Network, to those who continue to support and seek out ECP opinions, and to all of you actively volunteering with and participating in ECPN content. We know there will always be conservators reaching back to support their upcoming colleagues and reaching out to one another and we hope that ECPN continues to play a vital role in highlighting needs and developing solutions.

Jessica Betz Abel, ECPN Chair
Michaela Paulson, ECPN Vice Chair
Molly Gleeson, AIC Board Liaison to ECPN

Special thank you to Amber Kerr and Ryan Winfield for their support, encouragement and contributions to this article. Also, a very special thanks to all who have served and supported ECPN throughout the years, including officers, liaisons, members, and champions.


For past Network column updates, see the Archived News section of this site.