GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Overseeing and managing 700 students a year might seem daunting for some, but Lisa Eckert, superintendent at Albright Training Center, wouldn't have it any other way.
Eckert exudes the energy and enthusiasm of a newly hired employee and smiles as she explains how three years of working in a position of leadership at the Grand Canyon National Park has shaped her, personally and professionally.
"To me, it is just one of the best jobs there is. To come to a training center as we are preparing employees for our next century, because 2016 is when the National Park Service (NPS) turns 100-years-old, is just great," she said. "I just really enjoy being here when the students come in and all the new employees. I feel very fortunate in my professional life and my personal life. Sometimes I can't even separate the two, and in that sense I feel very lucky."
The nine-acre campus is located within a mile of the South Rim and is a primary training facility for Service-wide Employee Learning and Development. Programs include the NPS Fundamentals program, Natural and Cultural Resource Stewardship, and Visitor and Resource Protection.
As manager of the NPS facility, Eckert's responsibilities include writing budget requests with other training center superintendents, having quarterly meetings, and ensuring Albright is in sync with other centers around the country. But, Eckert says the job also has its perks. She makes time to bond with students, familiarizing them with the reason they chose the ranger career path.
"Sometimes I am able to be here and teach and I often try and take the students hiking so they can have that connection with this special place," she said.
Eckert's introduction to the Grand Canyon came in 1991, attending Albright's 5-week Ranger Skills class. After 20 years, she still remembers clearly the turning point of her career. Standing next to training instructor Dale Thompson, in preparation to smile for their class photo, she recalls telling him she wanted his job.
"I think how those classes I took shaped me was the innovation or where the 'brain' was for the NPS, instilling in us where we want to go and what knowledge we need to impart, but also share and learn from it," Eckert said. "So the fact that I could come back how many years later and not necessarily be in the role of a full time training instructor, but to be overall manager is a dream come true."
Currently, Eckert is finishing up work on Albright's landscaping project. In 2006 the plan was put on hold when finances did not allow for completion. She considers this work part of looking towards the big picture of the center.
"I was at a meeting in Washington and I was able to compete for funds so that we could work on finishing up some of the things we didn't finish in 2006...so, we are just finishing up with that," she said.
Almost 30 years of experience at 12 different national parks has given Eckert the ability to draw and lead from plenty of diverse examples, which she says helps when guiding students through their courses.
"We have 7 regions in the NPS and I have worked in each one, and now I'm a Washington employee, which I've never been before," she said. "It's been great, I've been involved in natural, cultural and city parks, Alaska, New York City, I mean that diversity has helped me out a lot. I've been in small parks and big parks and even in an overseas assignment."
Eckert said the Grand Canyon is a global icon, which she considers the big difference when comparing the park to others around the country. Some parks are not as widely known as the Grand Canyon, but commonalities are still present when dealing with management and upkeep issues regardless of the size.
"Just keeping up with the maintenance back log and making sure that things like facilities are maintained as proactively as possible, and there is different ways to keep things current. I think all parks, small and large, are struggling with that," she said. "And you'll hear that a lot in our maintenance group that maintenance backlog is kind of a national topic. There is a huge gap between what we really need to do and what we are able to do."
Looking towards the future, the first female superintendent of Albright Training Center said the Grand Canyon should be labeled as a community, not just a park.
"Something we all have in common is reaching out to the partnerships of the community. Parks are a part of a community and Grand Canyon is part of this community and is Williams, Flagstaff, Tusayan," she said. "Just like New York City parks are part of New York City. The difference is that the Grand Canyon is just this internationally well-acclaimed icon versus some of the parks."