Zach Winslow, Doing Something Bigger
Zach Winslow grew up in small town America; Hertford, North Carolina, population 2,200. A small farming community along the banks of the Perquimans River. A place where outdoor recreation pursuits are woven into the culture. Zach’s path to Penn State, the RPTM major, and earning his Bachelor’s degree, is one of starts and stops and of “doing something bigger”.
Zach graduated from the high school in Hertford in 2011. Like most high school seniors, he selected a college and started his education, as Zach says, “because everyone else was doing it”. After a year and a half at East Carolina University, feeling uncertain and unsure, he left to take some time to figure out what he wanted to do. He took a job with the grounds and maintenance staff at the recreation department back home. It was that job and the influence of where he grew up that planted the seeds for his eventual career and his path to Penn State.
But, not without a detour through the United States Marine Corps.
“I felt a calling to do something bigger,” said Zach. “I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself.” In 2015, he enlisted in the Marines where he spent the next four-and-a-half years as a radio operations specialist, training at Parris Island in South Carolina; Twentynine Palms in California; and eventually landing at Camp Lejeune, back home in North Carolina. His position within the military was as a radio operator in artillery support. He met his wife Brittany when one of his fellow Marines introduced Zach to his girlfriend’s twin sister.
“I left the Marines in January 2020,” he shared. “Right in the middle of COVID. Maybe the worst time to be transitioning out of the military.” Building on his pre-military experience, he returned to grounds and maintenance and eventually ended up at Christopher Newport News University as an Athletic Field Technician. In conversations with his colleagues at CNNU, he learned about Penn State’s world-renowned Turfgrass Management program. He applied to Penn State’s World Campus with plans to use his G.I. Bill benefits to pay for his education.
“I started in Turfgrass but heard about RPTM, and thought the opportunities for my career would be broader,” said Zach. “RPTM and World Campus have been perfect for my situation.”
With a long commute, the arrival of their son Chandler, and balancing the demands that come with being a university student, Zach made a change to a new job in 2022. He accepted the position of Park Maintenance Supervisor for the city of Chesapeake, Virginia. Zach currently oversees the facilities and maintenance staff for a 760+ acre city-owned park and campground facility, in addition to six other city-owned parks. He is responsible for the oversight of landscaping, arboriculture, chemical applications, facilities maintenance, and safety management for the parks.
RPTM offers a capstone project option in lieu of the 12-credit internship requirement for non-traditional student-professionals who are working in the field of RPTM. This semester, Zach is completing his capstone project under the supervisor of RPTM Assistant Professor Dr. Danielle Lawson to develop an environmental education program that can be offered within the park where he is the Park Maintenance Supervisor. With the support of his is colleagues on the programming side of the City of Chesapeake Recreation and Parks department, Zach is using the education he gained in RPTM to grow his skill set and experience base, and to continue to build on his already robust resume.
“In a perfect world, I hope to end up as a Director or Superintendent of a park system,” said Zach. “My experience earning my degree has been amazing. I have been able to work at my own pace, but with deadlines to help me stay on track. Communication with professors has been easy. The people I have met in class – even in the online discussions – come from different areas. Texas. North Carolina. Not just from Pennsylvania. It kind of reminds me of the military.”
Zach will graduate in August with his Bachelor’s of Science and will undoubtedly contribute to something bigger wherever he lands.