“I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” Charity Guiles mused about her future plans. But, thanks to CCV, she says, “there is an expansion in my world of possibilities and opportunities now that is really a turning point in my life.”

Charity started her CCV journey in 2004 to pursue a liberal arts degree. She then took a 6-year break for work, went back to school for a year, and took another 5-year break for work before returning to CCV in 2018. “The reason that I decided to pursue a degree at CCV has evolved over time. It started out as thinking ‘getting an associate degree was the thing to do’ but not having any direction,” Charity said. Now, she is three classes away from completing an associate degree in environmental science.

Charity’s passion for the environment, and sense of direction for her education, came after a natural disaster that impacted her life in 2011: Hurricane Irene. “That storm was what inspired me to change my area of study and it basically began my passion for the environment that I’m eager to continue exploring,” Charity said. When the storm hit Vermont, Charity’s house was one of many that were destroyed, affecting her family and causing uncertainty about the future. “I wanted to understand why that storm had impacted my life…CCV was offering a degree in environmental science, and it was relatively new at that point. With this natural disaster, coupled with this desire to get back into education, it just seemed like the natural course.”

Now, Charity says that education and the environment have become her whole life. Through a service learning project in one of her ecology classes, Charity met with the biodiversity working group from the Lyme Conservation Commission (LCC) to work on a knotweed removal project they were doing at the Big Rock Nature Preserve in Lyme, NH. She worked on this knotweed project through two of her classes and was able to build a connection with members of the LCC, mentioning to them her area of study and her interests. When the LCC reached out to a CCV instructor in the spring of 2020 saying they were looking for interns, Charity was at the top of their minds.

Charity started her internship with the LCC at the end of May as a seasonal land steward for field work with the Lyme biodiversity working group. Her work has focused on managing Japanese knotweed, an invasive species that has spread quickly through the area. “The invasives are a problem because they are plants or animals that evolved elsewhere with their own natural predators, and if you move them around, now they have an opportunity to have an unrestricted usage of the natural resources in the new area because there aren’t any limiting factors in place for this species….the native plant and animal species are out-competed by them,” Charity said. Another part of her work is writing an article for the LCC, which has led her to starting a plant inventory of the site. This will help in determining what can be planted in place of the knotweed.

Internship opportunities through CCV offer experiential learning through active work in a student’s field of study. Charity says her internship “reinforces the notion that I really am in the right place. If I ever had any doubt about my academic past, that’s been removed by actually getting out in the field and doing boot-on-the-ground conservation work.” Charity’s internship was a requirement for her environmental science degree and is both paid and for-credit. “This internship I think really is an example of an ideal opportunity for a CCV student…it has allowed me to network with some people who are employed in the field I want to work in. Now I have an organization contact, a starting point.” Since her internship involves working outdoors, COVID-19 did not derail this learning experience.

Along with her internship reinforcing that she’s in the right place academically, Charity says that her experience at CCV has added to her love of learning. “I think CCV has been great for me because it works with my lifestyle. I can still live my life while I’m learning; I don’t have to put things on hold.” She chose CCV for its affordability, accessibility, and “great reputation.” CCV has also allowed her to choose from many course offerings, online and on-ground classes, and service learning opportunities. The College has been a place for Charity to network and connect with fellow students, faculty, and staff. “I made a lot of friends at CCV, which is hard for an adult. Being at CCV has opened up a whole new community of people. Not just friendships, but potential colleagues.” Charity was also offered a position as an academic mentor, which gave her the chance to help other students and have a regular place to do work. “I think being able to get all of that from one college is really amazing. I really love being a student at CCV.”

Continuing her education over a span of 16 years took many motivators. Charity says her love of learning, and her idea of the value of a college degree, have inspired her to keep going. “A college degree can expand your perspective on the world. That’s the most value I have in pursuing a degree at CCV. It has allowed me to see the world in new ways, to think about society and systems from a new and expanded viewpoint.” Additionally, she says that years of ill-fitting jobs motivated her to continue with her education. “I’m 39 years old, I’ve already worked for decades in various jobs without a lot of direction. Just finding the appropriate area of study was huge for me…as far as actual career goals, my goals are very broad. As long as I’m working to improve the environment I’ll be happy.”

Charity has been able to find silver linings throughout her life. Hurricane Irene caused a setback for her, but she was able to discover a passion for the environment and a direction for her education and career. She expects to be offered a position with the Lyme Conservation Commission when she graduates from CCV in 2021. Because of CCV and her internship opportunity, Charity says, “I can choose my own path now and make my career meaningful to who I am…I know I can’t make a big difference in the world, but I can make a small one, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

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