Melora Purell

Melora Purell
Kohala Watershed Partnership
High School Attended
O'Neill H.S.; Highland Falls, NY and Wayzata H.S.; Plymouth, MN
College Attended
Colgate University; University of Wisconsin - Madison: B.S. Education
Graduate Training
UH Hilo: M.S. Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science

Job Description:

The Kohala Watershed Partnership is a voluntary coalition of private landowners and public land stewards that have come together to jointly manage the forested watershed of Kohala Mountain. They have written a 20-year management plan that includes creating about 10,000 acres of fenced forest preserves. Basically, my job is to implement the management plan. That means organizing funding and grants, doing public outreach and education, setting up monitoring and control programs, working with volunteers, and hiring and managing a field crew to do fence construction, animal and weed control.

Interest in Field:

I was the kind of kid who spent all my free time in the natural world. I have always felt most connected when I am exploring in the woods or along a stream, usually covered in mud with wet shoes. I was the one who organized all the neighborhood kids to do a trash clean-up, and everywhere I have ever lived, (which is lots of places), I have volunteered with environmental groups. I became a science teacher, and worked with kids in the classroom for 16 years, on the Mainland, in Japan, and in Hawaiʻi. My favorite thing as a science teacher was going on field trips and doing environmental service projects. So, I guess it is natural that I eventually found my way into a job in conservation. I love Kohala, and I had the privilege of doing my master’s thesis research on the mountain.

How did you get there?

My path is certainly not the norm. I was teaching at HPA in 2004, but my job was “restructured” and I found myself unemployed for the first time in my life. I had heard about the TCBES program at UH Hilo and had thought that it sounded like the kind of program I could actually do. The door closed, but the window opened!

Necessary Qualifications:

I need to be a multi-tasker, a quick learner, a good presenter and someone who can get things organized and finished! Those are qualities that were refined by all my years as a teacher, and based on my own curiosity and drive. I entered graduate school as a good writer, but my advisors shaped my thinking and expression so that I can now think like a scientist and write with more precision. Graduate school also taught me to detach from my work so that I can listen and learn from criticism (something I have always had trouble with!) I also learned to do GIS, which is essential skill in my job these days.

Rewards of Work:

I get to work with other people that share my values of hard work, honesty and conservation. I spend many hours a week on Kohala Mountain, a beautiful and sacred place. I help kids and adults reconnect with the mud-loving child inside. The intrinsic rewards are beyond measure!

Relevant Work Experience:

  • 1988-2004; Middle and High School Science Teacher - Wisconsin, Washington State, The American School in Japan (Tokyo), Punahou (Honolulu), Hawaiʻi Preparatory Academy (Waimea). Taught biology, environmental science, earth science, chemistry, physics and marine biology. Advisor for the Student Action for the Earth (SAFE) club.
  • 2004-2006; Teaching Assistant and Tutor - UH Hilo
  • 2006; Ecotour/Hiking Guide - Hawaiian Walkways

Typical Day:

Every day is different! Here are three different sorts of days that I have now:

Office Day - writing grant proposals, editing an EA, making maps on GIS, writing plans Field Day - setting up plots, flagging trails, GPSing species locations, taking photos, checking a fence line, weeding Outreach Day - creating a brochure, planning a nature camp, giving a presentation to a community group, taking a club on a field trip

Words of Wisdom :

You wish you knew...:

I wish I had NOT taken the advice of my college career counselor who told me that there were no jobs in Environmental Education, and instead got me headed towards classroom teaching. I loved working with kids, but I could have spent more time in the woods, and less inside if I had done EE. But I do not regret any of my life, and I think my life experiences shaped me into the person I am who can now do the job I am meant to be doing!

You wish you were told...:

Follow your heart with all your heart, and the details will fall into place. I’m sure there are many people like me who want to work in an environmental career because they have a passion for protecting the natural world that they love. Don’t get distracted from that goal. You CAN combine your passion with your work.

Final Comments / Advice:

Volunteer! ! ! Anybody will put you to work, just ask! These are REAL learning experiences. You will experience different environments and activities, and you will make important connections to people who can help you out later when you are looking for work in their field. Remember to clearly document your volunteer experiences - length of commitment and what you learned, and include these in your resume!