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My ACE Journey | Demetria Toula Papadopoulos

Alumna Name:  Demetria Toula Papadopoulos

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Dates Served: Feb 2015- May 2017 and May 2019- Present

What roles was Toula in: Crew Corpsmember, Crew Leader, Assistant Logistics Coordinator, Bureau of Land Management EPIC Internship (Currently Serving)

Location:  Hurricane, Utah and St. George, Utah

ACE Alumna, Demetria Toula Papadopoulos, walks us through her journey with ACE.  Toula started as an ACE corpsmember and years later is beginning her ACE EPIC Internship with the Bureau of Land Management.  Continue reading below to learn more about her favorite projects, thoughts on leadership, where she is headed next and so much more!

Q:  What were you doing before ACE?  

A:  Before joining ACE, I was attending college at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and working as a supervisor at a cafe in Boston, Massachusetts.  I attended for three semesters and ended up having to leave for mental health reasons.  I took the next year to continue to work, explore interests, and practice self-care.  I eventually decided to pursue a long-time curiosity in Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF) and spent a month volunteering on an Orchard in California.  I found that travel, meeting people, learning new skills, and working with the land fed my soul and left me feeling fulfilled and engaged.  This period of exploration is what led me to work in the outdoors and eventually ACE.

Q:  How did you hear about ACE?

A: Lots of Googling!  I had actually been searching for ways to get experience volunteering with wildlife, but I was unsuccessful in finding something I could either afford to do or held enough prior experience for.  ACE had shown up as a related option on  Even though the crew program was not directly related to wildlife work, I trusted that it could be a promising way to get a foot in the door of environmental work.

Q: Walk me through your time with ACE? What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE corps member?  

A: Ok, I’m going to break this down by positions so it’s lengthy, but hopefully shows one pathway to outdoor work!

I began volunteering with ACE MTW in February 2015 and had originally signed up for a 3 month llong term.  Ultimately, it passed in a flash and I ended up signing on for two more six month terms as a corpsmember. During my 15 months as a volunteer, I got trained as a sawyer, was selected for the flagship ACE Puerto Rico crew, became a housing supervisor, and participated in the early beginnings of the mentorship program and assistant crew leader position.

I was hired as a crew leader in May 2016 and led my first crew in Canyonlands National Park.  I focused on chainsaw work and maintenance and mostly led restoration projects.  The mentorship program really began to take off during this time and I was passionate about exploring leadership, empowering and teaching members.  I eventually found it was time to move on in May 2017 and spent time traveling in New Zealand.

After returning to the states, I was hired as the Assistant Logistics Coordinator for MTW.  This job combined the provisions and supplies position with vehicle/tool/shop upkeep.  This was also the time where I received my Forest Service B Faller certification.

I found out about the opening for the EPIC position I currently hold during this time as well.  It was with a project partner I had worked with previously and held a good relationship with.  This is just one of the reasons ACE is SO valuable due to the connections you can make if you are invested.  Ultimately, I am now working with the Bureau of the Land Management as an EPIC intern and working directly with wildlife.

Overall, I guess I would have to say one of my favorite aspects of working with ACE is community.  I found a community of lifelong friends, mentors, resources, support, opportunities, on and on.  

Q:  What is ACE MTW culture?  How do you feel you participated in that culture?

A:  ACE MTW culture is very dynamic.  I watched it change over and over during the two years or so that I lived in the Hurricane house.  The smaller nature of MTW lends itself to a tight knit feel (kind of like a small town neighborhood where everybody knows everybody).  But it also leaves room for interests and themes to blossom and shift so there were phases where everybody climbed, or learned card games, or played music, or gave mini learning sessions, baked cakes, practiced meditation, etc.  If you had something to share, there was room to share it.  Or if you wanted to learn something, there was a way to learn it.  I really enjoyed watching groups of corps members come in and bring a totally new quality to the community.  I like to think that as a crew leader, I supported the culture by creating an environment that encouraged others to explore their interests, take steps to teach each other, and just encourage creativity, sharing, and growth.

Q:  What was it like living in Hurricane, Utah?  Any favorite activities? Hikes? What did you do on your off days?

A: Hurricane is a pretty cool little place!  All your basic needs are within walking distance from the ACE house.  I especially loved reading in the park across the street, getting a coffee at River Rock and swimming in the Virgin River, or taking walks to the canyon just down the road.  The city of St. George is a 25 minute drive in one direction and Zion National Park is a 25 minute drive the other way.  It was also an eye opening experience being surrounded by an extremely different culture than what I was used to in the city/suburbs of Massachusetts.

I spent my off days taking road trips with other volunteers to nearby states and national parks.  I also had a motorcycle while I was living at the house so I took lots of solo trips all over the southwest.  I think these were some of my favorite experiences because I got to reach some beautiful places on my own and meet really interesting people along the way.  While you could travel to other places, there is also ENDLESS hiking and hidden jems to be experienced locally.  There was never a boring day at the ACE house either with lots of potlucks, jam sessions, game nights, etc.

Q:  Did you have a favorite project?  Why?

A:  Oddly enough, I feel like my favorite projects could be described as second hand fun haha.  It’s the most challenging ones that I feel like I appreciate the most.  I guess if I had to pick one, it would be crew leading the series of projects in Price, UT.  It was a semi backcountry project in that our gear had to be brought in by UTV.  It was also a restoration project so we hiked chainsaws to our worksite and faced an unbroken forest of tamarisk to remove.  We faced so many challenges in those weeks from multiple flash flooding, to more work than we imagined, to groover (backcountry toilet) malfunctions, and facing crew dynamics.  But somehow, I think/hope everybody there came out of it a little stronger.  I also met some of my best friends through overcoming these hard moments (Linnea remembers…)

All this being said, it’s worth mentioning that there was always sufficient support, communication, and planning from staff, so we were able to avoid getting into situations that were out of hand.

Q:  In what ways did ACE shape your life personally and professionally?

A: ACE was a huge step for me towards empowerment, learning invaluable skills, fulfilling my dream of travel, and what led me to take the job I currently hold.  A big bonus for me also happened to be helping overcome social anxiety through being in a supportive space.  Beginning as a shy art student, I left the crew program with self confidence, a sense of independence, and a deep appreciation of teamwork.  The skills I gained in ACE are what led me to pursue a lifelong dream of traveling to New Zealand.  I felt confident enough to travel solo, work and live on farms and communities, and volunteer with the Department of Conservation.  In addition, maintaining communication with a project partner I connected with is ultimately what led me to my current internship with the Bureau of Land Management and working with wildlife.

Q: What is leadership to you?  What did ACE teach you about leadership?

A: For me, leadership is less about directing people to do a job and more about watching and guiding the natural flow of a group towards their greatest potential.  In ACE, I learned that I didn’t have to be the most charismatic, the most outgoing, or the loudest to be a good leader.  I found my strengths in one on one connection and building relationships with individuals.  I found that in listening to each other, we could build ties and be better, stronger, and more efficient as a team.  In this way, we not only got the work done, but grew as individuals.  While it often took being the one to step forward, make calls, and take action; for me, mentoring and being a good leader was also often about stepping back, observing, and facilitating the flow of magic.

Being in a leadership role, I learned the most about myself in the shortest amount of time because your actions echo.  That being said, I don’t think that role has ever stopped and all of our actions are a small, daily act of leadership.

Q:  What are your responsibilities as an EPIC Intern with St. George, Bureau of Land Management?

A: As an EPIC Intern with St. George, Bureau of Land Management, my responsibilities range from heavy field work with wildlife to data management.  We work closely with the desert tortoise and most recently have been monitoring their population in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.  This has been especially important due to the recent fires.  The data we’ve collected will be used to help Federal Agencies make educated land management decisions.  Our work with the desert tortoise also includes radio telemetry, tortoise releases, monitoring during construction in tortoise habitat, and scat collection for DNA studies to determine diet in different habitats.  We’ve also conducted bat surveys using acoustic software, assessed Mexican spotted owl habitat, conducted plant surveys, and watered plants at habitat restoration sites.  My favorite part of my job has to be Gila monster surveys.  They are incredibly unique animals with fascinating behavior.  Unfortunately, they’re facing population decline due to human related habitat loss/fragmentation and poaching so research is incredibly important now.  In this job, I’ve really come to realize how every bit of effort in conservation is so vital even if your work feels small.

 Q:  How do you fill your time outside of your internship? What’s your favorite outdoor activity?

A: I still go hiking, camping, climbing and have recently gotten into mountain biking.  I try to take my incredible adventure cat, Baloo, out for walks when I can and when he’s not busy being a couch potato. I’ve also been working on making more art through landscape painting and wildlife studies.  I think my favorite outdoor activity is actually just sitting alone in one place and taking everything in.  I like to find time during hikes to stop and sketch a landscape that calls to me.  I never feel like I truly know a place until I do this.

Q:  What comes next?  What are your future goals?

A: I plan on fulfilling this EPIC internship in St. George, and would love to apply for a position at the BLM as a federal employee if something opens up.  I’m also taking online fisheries and wildlife management classes at Oregon State University at this time.  Ultimately, I would still like to combine this work with art, leadership, and sustainability either in one job or through different realms of my life.  I am passionate about sustainable agriculture as a tool for conservation and would love to find a way to merge these things.  Who knows where exactly it will all lead in 30 years, but I’m confident that following passions one step at a time will get me somewhere in the end.

Q:  If a prospective ACE member were to ask you what the benefits of joining ACE are, what would you say?  

A:  It’s hard to give a concrete answer but it is largely what you make of it.  You are aboard an ocean of resources, chances upon chances to learn new skills, living in a household of people with both similar interests and different interests, a boundless landscape filled with beauty and adventure, you receive an education award, and you have the rare gift of time on your hands for six off days.  These things are so hard to come by!  Much of it really is up to you what you will do and what it equals out to in the end.  But I suggest to be as proactive as you can, be flexible, be resilient, and be receptive.

In my ACE experience, I can tell you I have made the best- lifelong friends, experienced some of the most wonderous places, learned rare and valuable skills, gained invaluable job experience, met inspiring/powerful women and men who have served as huge role models, developed as a human, made lots of professional connections, and really would not be the same without it all.


ACE Alumni Ambassador | Libby Snethen

Alumna Name:  Libby Snethen

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Dates Served: May, 2017 to November, 2017

What roles was Libby in: Crew Member

Location: Mountain West, Hurricane, Utah

Libby Snethen, born in Washington and raised in Missouri, joined ACE Mountain West Crew division in May 2017.  Libby served a 6 month term with ACE and is now living in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Libby will be ACE’s very first Alumni Ambassador.  These volunteer positions will be spreading the word about all things ACE and engaging with prospective members.  Read Libbys interview below to learn more about our first Alumni Ambassador!

Q:  What were you doing before ACE?

A: I was a junior at the University of Missouri,  in Columbia, MO, studying sociology and working part time at the university hospital. My free time consisted of walking and running on the MKT trail through town.

Q:  How did you hear about ACE?

A: I randomly found the ACE website after Googling “Mount Zion Utah,” a place I had heard about from a friend that I would later know to be Zion National Park. My Google search took me through photos of towering sandstone spires and glowing arches, and then of unwashed, smiling faces in beige T-shirts. I watched every video about ACE that I could find and decided to apply for a six month term.

Q:  Walk me through your time at ACE – What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE Crew member?

A: Having never camped before I joined ACE, I had a lot to learn about the world of outdoor recreation. Immediately, I fell in love with hiking, camping, and not showering for days. While all of this was amazing, my favorite part of ACE was the people. I met dozens of wonderful people, each with their own styles, jokes, and dreams. The people of ACE became my family and I will always love them.

Q:  What was it like living in Hurricane, UT? Any favorite activities? Hikes? What did you do on your off days?

A: Hurricane was a fun place to live. I frequented Alfredo’s for burritos, and still visit whenever I’m in town. Chinatown Wash became a favorite hike of mine when I wanted to do something near the house. I didn’t know what to expect for my off days, but I could have never imagined them being filled with so much joy. Every single set of off days were spent traveling and getting to know my ACE friends better. We went on trips to Big Sur, Moab, the Grand Canyon, the Tetons, and more. We took naps under the arches that I had seen on Google Images. We strutted around art galleries in Carmel, CA wearing mismatched and inside out clothing. We laughed until we cried, and cried until we laughed. 

Q:  Did you have a favorite project?  Why?

A: My favorite project was a logout in Dixie National Forest. This was my first hitch using the chainsaw where I felt totally comfortable. I have to admit that the saw was very intimidating, but my Crew Leader, Katie Sena, was supportive and encouraging, which boosted my confidence. 

Q:  What is ACE MTW culture?  How do you feel you participated in that culture?

A: The ACE MTW culture is tight, to put it simply. We shared books, music, and fun recipes. I feel like I totally adopted the “dirtbag” lifestyle while in ACE, one of canned beans and remote adventures and without showers or flushing toilets. I loved coming back to the house and sharing stories with everyone while we packed for our next hitch. 

Q:  In what ways did ACE shape your life personally and professionally?

A: Personally, I grew so much and in ways that I didn’t imagine. The work pushed me physically and taught me what my body can do. I loved every new experience, and vowed to keep this momentum going. Professionally, I just wanted to do anything that would preserve this experience. Whether it’s working for a land management agency that protects the environment or for a local organization that encourages community engagement within the outdoors, I want everyone to have the opportunity to fall in love with nature in their own way.

Q:  How long have you been an ACE Alumna?  Where are you now? 

A: My last hitch was at the end of November in 2017. After ACE I decided to stay and transfer to the University of Utah. I graduated this year, and am currently the intern at TreeUtah, a nonprofit based in SLC that plants trees in communities that need them. 

Q:  What are some of your favorite extracurricular activities?  What is it like living in Salt Lake City, Utah?

A: Living in Salt Lake City is pretty great. I try to go hiking as often as I can. I try to fill my free time with things that make me feel good, like reading, visiting the mountains, painting, and socially distant picnics. Recently, I’ve been painting watercolors on my hikes, which has been pretty awesome.

Q:  What excites you most about becoming an ACE Alumni Ambassador?

A: I am so excited to be in a supportive role for future ACEers. The opportunities available to people in ACE are outstanding, and made even better when these people are encouraged to grow and explore as individuals. My experience doesn’t look like anyone else’s, and that’s what makes ACE so special. I hope that as an ACE Alumni Ambassador I can meet new people and encourage personal growth in them through environmental stewardship.

Q:  If a prospective ACE member were to ask you what the benefits of joining ACE are, what would you say?  

A: As cheesy as it may sound, the benefits are what you make them to be. I chose to put myself out there and fall down a lot because I wanted something new. Making close friends, exploring new places with said friends, and overcoming challenges are my major takeaways from ACE. For this experience, I will always be grateful.

Corps to Career | Maria Rago

ACE is proud to share a Corps To Career story with former ACE volunteer and staff, Maria Rago.  Maria started as a corpsmember and would soon move up in the organization due to her passion for conservation and leadership. After her career with ACE, Maria became a Wildland Firefighter for Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and then Zion National Park.  Maria serves as a role model to those in search of outdoor experience and a future in Wildland Firefighting.     

Alumna Name:  Maria Rago

Pronouns: She/Her 

Dates Served: July 2017- February 2020

What roles was Maria in: corpsmember, assistant team leader, crew leader

Location: Mountain West, Hurricane, Utah

Q:  What were you doing before ACE?  

A: After I graduated from Slippery Rock University in Dec 2016, I moved back home to Pittsburgh. I was working at a daycare program called the Eagle’s Nest that looked after kids while their parents were shopping at the grocery store the daycare was located in.

Q:  How did you hear about ACE?

A: I heard about ACE from someone that I went to college with that just got a job as a crew leader. He graduated a semester before me and reached out after he spent a few months at ACE and thought I would fit in well.

Q: Walk me through your time with ACE? What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE corps member?  

A: My favorite thing about ACE was moving to a place completely different from where I was living in Pittsburgh. I felt like I was getting introduced to a whole new world. I had never even been on a camping trip before so everything about ACE and outdoor recreation was new to me. I loved meeting people with different hobbies and varying experience levels so some of us could experience firsts together while being guided by the more experienced crew members who were excited to share their knowledge. There is such a great community at ACE MTW. I really felt like I met “my people.” I think doing hard physical work and experiencing the outdoors together creates a unique bond. I know that I will always have those friendships that formed at ACE.

Q:  What is ACE MTW culture?  How do you feel you participated in that culture?

A: ACE MTW culture is about getting outside, trying new hobbies, and including as many people in them as you can. My boss in Zion asked me and another former ACEr on our crew why whenever he sees ACErs at a climbing spot there are always so many people. We explained that’s how ACE is, whenever someone says they are going out to do something everyone joins in. It is especially welcoming when you first move into the house in Hurricane. As soon as you are no longer the new person in the house you become one of the people inviting the new members out for a hike and making them feel welcome. I went on so many hikes and trips with so many different people while I was in ACE.

Q:  What was it like living in Hurricane, Utah?  Any favorite activities? Hikes? What did you do on your off days?

A: Living in Hurricane made me fall in love with the desert and I haven’t really left since I got here 3 years ago. There are so many places in the area to go hiking, backpacking, and climbing. The people I met in ACE introduced me to all of these activities and when I was a part of ACE we all spent every off day doing as much of them as we could. The views are also mind blowing. I love looking around and being able to see West Temple in Zion and the Pine Valley Mountains at the same time. Especially when they are covered in snow!

Q:  Did you have a favorite project?  Why?

A: One of my favorite projects was the Death Valley project that we would do in the winter. We had a small crew and worked directly with the project partner removing invasive species like palm trees and tamarisk. We went back for a few hitches so we got to spend a lot of time in the park and explore more than most people will ever see. That was also one of my first hitches after I got chainsaw trained and I was cutting palm trees in the desert. I think that’s a pretty once in a lifetime kind of experience.

Q:  In what ways did ACE shape your life personally and professionally?

A: Without exaggerating, I feel safe to say that ACE drastically changed my life. It took me in a whole new direction that I hadn’t even considered for myself. I studied Art Education when I was in college and the thought never crossed my mind that one day I would be working in Zion National Park as a Wildland FireFighter. I didn’t really even know what that job was. ACE opened up this world of seeing women work alongside men in a very physical job and excel at it. I met so many strong, impressive women that really inspired me and gave me the confidence to venture into a field that is very male dominated. Being surrounded by amazing women and sharing stories and experiences created a great environment for me to grow both at work and outside of it.

Q: How did you attain your positions as a wildland firefighter in Utah?

A: I actually had my first interaction with the Fire Crew I am currently on when I was a corpsmember at ACE. We did a fuels reduction hitch in Zion National Park and part of our daily routine was meeting with the Engine Captain and Assistant Engine Captain to ask them questions and learn about the Wildland Firefighting profession. That’s when I decided that I wanted to pursue a job in this field. After that, I tried to get on as many saw projects as I could and started applying to Wildland Fire jobs. I did not end up getting a fire job the first season I applied so I tried to get more experience and applied to an ACL position but was not selected. I then found a position on a saw crew at the UCC that helped me get all the basic Wildland Firefighting certifications. After my 6 month term there I was able to get an ACL job with ACE MTW where I continued to gain relevant job experience. The summer after that term was when I started my first fire season in Escalante. Now I work with people who were once my project partners in Zion. I was told by both of the people in charge of hiring me for my two fire seasons that my work experience at conservation corps was the main reason I was hired.

Q:  What are your responsibilities as a wildland firefighter with ZNP?

A: I am part of a 6-7 person engine crew in Zion. We are available to get sent to a fire in the whole color country area from the Arizona Strip up to Cedar City and all the way out to Escalante. Within our crew, our roles when we are on a fire change frequently. I’ve been the person spraying water from the hose, the sawyer, the swamper, and the person digging the fire line. I would say my main responsibility being a newer firefighter is to gain as much knowledge as I can about how to work on a crew, how to fight fire, and how to stay safe so that I can help teach and lead in the future.

Q:  How do you fill your time outside of Fire? What’s your favorite outdoor activity?

A: Although I haven’t had much time outside of fire this season, backpacking and climbing are my top two favorites. I am also hoping to get into trail running this off season.

Q:  What comes next?  What are your future goals?

A: Right now my goal is to work towards leadership qualifications within Wildland Fire. I hope to get my squad boss task book signed off in the next couple years. Another one of my goals is to recruit more women into Wildland Fire!

Q:  If a prospective corpsmember were to ask you what the benefits of joining ACE are, what would you say?  

A: There are so many benefits. I would say learning to work as a part of a crew and then learning how to lead a crew. I worked with a variety of leadership styles and was able to see how to be an effective leader for different groups of people. ACE is also a great way to network with potential future employers from land management agencies that are project partners. I know a few people, including myself, that have gotten jobs working for project partners from a hitch they were on. You can also get a feel for the different types of work that go into managing public lands. Trying out the types of work through hitches can help you decide what kind of outdoor work you are interested in. I also got to work in so many beautiful places. My appreciation for nature grew with every hitch that I went on. ACE is a great place for meeting friends with similar interests and then using your time off to explore with them.

Corps to Career – Kenneth De Jesus Graciani

We are so happy to be able to share another Corps to Career success story out of our ACE Puerto Rico program.
Former ACE Member Kenneth De Jesus Graciani worked as an ACE corps member from October 2015 – April 2016. Kenneth was able to take his experience and work ethic and transition to a position working for NPS at San Juan National Historic Site.
We sat down with Kenneth for a Q and A to find out about where he is with NPS, how he achieved his goal of working for an agency and how ACE was a small part of his journey.

kenneth-de-jesus-gracianiWhere are you from originally? I am from Arroyo, Puerto Rico.
What motivated you or inspired you to be in conservation? I wanted to get experience doing this kind of work. My father and Uncle both work in conservation for the National Park Service and so at a young age I was very interested in this type of work and I wanted to learn as much as I could.
How did you find out about ACE? My Uncle saw a flyer for the Conservation Corps at the NPS office and he told me about the opportunity.
What was your role with ACE? My role as a crew member with ACE was to carry out the daily projects that were assigned to us by NPS staff and our crew leaders. The work involved historic preservation, trail maintenance, new trail construction, and removing unwanted trees that were damaging the historic fortress.
kenneth-teamworkWhat was your favorite project and why? I loved the “outworks” trail project. It involved mixing cement and building a new network of trails for tourists to enjoy that were not there before. The work was very rewarding and both NPS staff and Park visitors were appreciative of our efforts.
What was one of your biggest challenges? When you have good training and leadership from NPS and ACE, all projects are possible and none were too challenging.
What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE corps member? Everything. I loved mixing concrete to building new trails. I learned new skills from the crew leaders that gave me the confidence to apply for an NPS job.
How did you attain the position with NPS? I attained this position by gaining skills, experience, and confidence with ACE and then applied to the NPS job at a time when they were hiring.
What are your job responsibilities with NPS? I am a maintenance worker for the National Park Service, San Juan Natl Historic Site. My main responsibilities include repairing historic structures, building concrete columns, welding, fencing, operating a circular saw and keeping up with maintenance of the park in a safe, efficient, manner. In the summer months I was the liaison between the NPS and the YCC crew.
Do you think ACE has helped prepare you for your future career? Definitely. ACE gave me the opportunity to work with them, learn new skills, gain valuable experience, and get exposure by working closely with NPS staff.
group-photoWhat are your future goals? I would like to continue learning as much as I can to grow and develop into a leader with the National Park Service. In 5 years I hope to be in a leadership position in the National Park Service. I would love to work with young adults and mentor them.
How has ACE helped to shape who you are personally and professionally? ACE helped me with everything. The crew leaders taught me technical skills, responsibility, leadership, and good work habits. I learned great teamwork. If it wasn’t for ACE, I would not be working with the National Park Service.
What advice can you offer to future corps members who are looking to get into the conservation field? Never say “no”. You need to be flexible and open to any type of work and any type of project. You need to be inspired to work for ACE and gain skills to have a good experience in ACE and be competitive for federal jobs.kenneth-prepping-for-new-trail

*If you are an ACE Alumni and are interested in sharing your Corps to Career story please contact Susie Jardine at