|Major: General Education/Sustainability
|Hometown: Kingsford, MI
For much of her time at Bay College, Amber Butterfield planned to graduate with a degree in criminal justice. However, she switched pathways just months before she was set to earn this degree. That switch ultimately resulted in her becoming the district manager of the Dickinson Conservation District.
In the fall of 2005, shortly after she graduated from Kingsford High School, Amber started taking classes at Bay. At that time, she was not yet focusing on the environmental field.
“I wanted to be a police officer. I’ve always been interested in law, so I went to get my criminal justice degree and either then go to the police academy or eventually get my law degree,” she said.
A year later, Amber put her educational plans on hold to start a family. When the youngest of her five children was nearly ready to start going to school, she decided it was time for her to return to Bay, as well.
At this point in her life, Amber was still aiming to get a criminal justice degree. That plan changed abruptly one semester before her expected graduation.
“While I was in class, someone did a presentation on environmental waste and what it’s doing to our world. I came home and told my husband ‘I think I need to change my degree,’ and he was like ‘okay.’ And that’s when I switched,” she said.
To follow through on this decision, she needed to adjust her course load.
“It was difficult – I had to take on a ton of classes I didn’t have at that point. I also wanted to work to gain experience in the field while attending school, but there weren’t a lot of jobs open at that time. I ended up volunteering from 2015 to 2017 at the Dickinson Conservation District,” Amber said.
Fortunately, Amber said Bay’s staff and faculty supported her “very much” at this time. Specifically, biology and environmental science instructor Brian Black, who played a crucial role in helping her graduate from the college.
“It was such a challenging transition that I almost took a break again – I felt like I was in over my head. He reached out to me personally and said, ‘I noticed you’re not signed up for next semester’s classes. What can I do to help you?,’” she said.
Thanks to this support, Amber was able to continue working towards her new degree at Bay.
“For me, it just showed that Bay College takes a personal interest in their students. It reassured me that I was doing the right thing, and I did end up signing up for classes and finishing my degree,” she said.
Amber graduated from Bay College with an associate in arts degree and a sustainability certificate in the spring of 2018. Initially, she had planned to pursue a degree in green energy or sustainability by transferring to a four-year university – but things had panned out differently than she expected.
“I was planning on continuing in my degree, but the place I volunteered at ended up hiring me,” she said.
In the spring of 2017, the Dickinson Conservation District hired Amber as a seasonal employee. That fall, she was brought on as a full-time project manager; two years later, she began working in the role of district manager.
“We are a local unit of state government, and we work on the natural resource concerns of the citizens of Dickinson County. We’re a partial nonprofit – we receive limited money from the state, but other than that, all of our operating funds come from fundraising and grant funding,” she said of her employer.
Amber is responsible for many aspects of the Dickinson Conservation District in her current role.
“I am in charge of all personnel issues, along with our budgets and finances. We are also the fiscal agents for the Wild Rivers Invasive Species Coalition, so I oversee all of that as well. Additionally, I’m responsible for implementing what is called a conservation needs assessment – it’s basically a survey focusing on various environmental resource concerns. Based off those results, we create our five-year plan to address what our county is concerned with,” she said.
The skills Amber learned at Bay have made it much easier for her to manage these various responsibilities. For example, she is currently putting the knowledge she gained in her environmental science and macroeconomics classes to use while she works on a recycling project involving a great deal of statistical analysis.
As of late 2022, Amber’s plans for the future are “undecided.” While she is considering the possibility of expanding her knowledge base by going back to school, her current focus is working at the Dickinson Conservation District.
Regardless of what happens, Amber said she is grateful for what Bay offers to people in the area.
“I think it provides a lot of help, especially for parents – just to be able to have that community institution to go to school while being a mom or while being a full-time employee. It’s helpful for people who aren’t able to go to those four-year universities,” she said.