Ray lands "dream job" with Illinois River conservation group

Release Date: 4/19/2013

If you search "Lauren Ray" on the University of the Ozarks website, you'll find dozens of articles. The senior environmental studies major has certainly made her mark at Ozarks as an activities coordinator for Ozarks Outdoors, driven environmental studies student, and president of the Planet Club, among many other roles. Ray recently learned that, after her upcoming graduation in May, her considerable talents will be put to good use as the education and outreach coordinator for the Illinois River Watershed Partnership (IRWP).

The IRWP is dedicated to improving the integrity of the Illinois River, which runs westerly through Northwest Arkansas and into Oklahoma, using public education and community outreach, water quality monitoring, and the implementation of conservation and restoration practices.

"My favorite part about this opportunity is that I'm going to be able to take two of my greatest passions, environmental education and outdoor recreation, and bring them together. This is my dream job. I am thrilled," Ray said.

Originally from Siloam Springs, Ark., Ray is excited to promote the watershed at schools and events throughout the state.

Lauren Ray and Sky Keen.

Planet Club members Lauren Ray (right) and freshman Sky Keen talk to a group of visiting fourth-graders on campus in early April about the importance of recycling. Ray, who will graduate in May with a degree in environmental studies, recently found out that she has been hired as an education and outreach coordinator for the Illinois River Watershed Partnership.

"The IRWP is working on establishing an environmental education center in Cave Springs, Arkansas, where I'll be working. They just bought a six-acre lake. It has all the different components of a watershed on site, so it's perfect for educating students. We'll be bringing in school groups to teach them about the watershed and why we should protect it. I'll also be going into the schools in Northwest Arkansas to conduct different environmental education activities," she explained.

While Ray has landed her dream job now, there were moments when she wasn't so sure of her fate.

"I was a summer intern with the IRWP last summer. I really enjoyed that work," Ray said. "And at the end of the summer, I was told that if the IRWP was able to secure grant funds they would want to hire me full time. So, I've just been waiting to find out if that might be possible."

The IRWP expected to give Ray an answer by the end of 2012, but as the months went by, Ray began to get nervous.

"I thought it wasn't going to happen, but this week I got the phone call I'd been waiting for. The program had been funded and I've been hired," Ray smiled.

As excited as she is to begin her new life as an Ozarks graduate, Ray can't say enough about the opportunities afforded her by Ozarks.

"Being involved with Ozarks Outdoors has been instrumental in preparing me for this. I've done so many different things with that group. I've led so many outdoors trips and helped plan major events. Of course, all of my classes in environmental studies have helped me gain a more global view of environmental education," Ray said.

As evidenced by her new position, Ray undoubtedly discovered her calling while at Ozarks, but even she is surprised by the how she has changed in just four short years.

"When I arrived at Ozarks my freshman year, I didn't have a sense of identity, really. And, I definitely didn't see myself as a leader. Somehow, throughout the past four years, I've taken on new responsibilities and learned what my passions are and what I really like to do," Ray said

When asked if this is future she would have predicted for herself four years ago, Ray's reply was quick and confident.

"I would never have anticipated as a freshman that I would be where I am now. There was a point in time when I was so withdrawn that I wondered if Ozarks was the place for me, but a lot of people on campus banded together to keep me here. I'm really glad that they did, because I can't imagine having a better experience in college than I've had here. This university has prepared me for anything that might happen. I feel like I can take on the world now," she said.