“You don’t take bad news lying down,” Chris Schoppmeyer ’77 taught his daughter, Erin Schoppmeyer ’11. She took to heart her father’s words when her world crashed down around her.
Maybe not her entire world, but super storm Sandy did crash down on the Statue of Liberty and nearby Ellis Island. Schoppmeyer was stationed as a seasonal employee and about to be promoted to a coveted permanent position in the U.S. Park Service. As her team rode the Liberty Landing Ferry to safety, they knew they were in for a rough storm and recovery.
Schoppmeyer was sent home with no guarantee of returning to a job she loved—the hard-to-get permanent job that had been within her grasp. With her father’s words echoing in her head and determined to do all she could to get back to work and prove her worth, Schoppmeyer called a human resource employee with a mutual connection to Maine.
“Put me to work. I’ll do anything—work part time, assist with clean-up.” Two weeks later, Schoppmeyer was called back to work storm damage clean-up detail.
As she pulled artifacts off shelves on the second floor of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, to gently dust off sand and grime, Schoppmeyer realized she benefitted from her Unity training.
She put to use all the techniques that Tom Mullin, associate professor of parks and forest resources, had taught her in Interpretive Methods, a class that included museum and exhibit design.
Deconstructing each exhibit through the delicate work of cleaning artifacts, cataloging each with a location and number, and packing each away to preserve them at the Smithsonian Museum warehouse in the Washington, D.C., Metro area, was the reverse of building a new exhibit. “All skills I hope to use as we reconstruct new exhibits once clean-up is completed on Ellis Island.”
The path to a park service career should have seemed evident for Erin. “Everyone thought I would follow in my dad’s footsteps.” Her father, a Unity College con law graduate, worked in law enforcement for the National and Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. But every summer, while her mom worked as a park ranger in Massachusetts, Schoppmeyer helped her with programs, explored the park, and went birding.
“I love being outdoors, and I revel in the fact I work for park service in some of the most beautiful places in America,” says Schoppmeyer.
“When I accompanied my dad to an environmental conference in Shenandoah Park, he introduced me to a park law enforcement colleague.” As Schoppmeyer recalls his generosity in showing her around, she notes he didn’t try to change her mind. Instead he introduced her to people in her chosen field. As she toured the park, Schoppmeyer ran into a Unity alumna who told her to never give up her dreams.
Battling Sandy, government shutdowns, and an often just-out-of-reach dream to becoming permanent in the park service, Erin persevered by networking, using her resources to create new programs, temping in various positions, and ultimately sifting through sand and scrubbing off mold—a gritty job for those who won’t give up.
She’s now permanent and back to taking the ferry from Battery Park to her beloved destination of standing in the crown and relating the statue’s history to visitors from near and far.