Archeologist Eric Petersen, a field director with SWCA Environmental Consultants in Tucson, makes his living recording and excavating prehistoric and historical sites before construction projects take place. But Petersen, a Northern Arizona University alumnus, discovered a different path to fulfillment long ago: he is a volunteer organizer with the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership program, better known as HOBY, which seeks to inspire and develop a global community of youth and volunteers that are dedicated to a life of leadership, service, and innovation.
"I got to a point where I had settled into my job but felt like I needed to do more for other people," says Petersen. "So I got involved with the Red Cross disaster action team, which helps people who have suffered through a fire or other damages to their homes. We give them immediate assistance like a place to stay, food for the week, that kind of stuff. We supply their basic needs so they can move on."
But that wasn't enough for Petersen. He wanted to do more. He decided to reach out to future student leaders, like he had once been with HOBY. Petersen quickly moved up the ranks, serving as a facilitator, director of programs, and director of recruitment before being tapped last year to hold the leadership seminar chair during the 2010 HOBY Arizona Conference at Northern Arizona University.
"Working with HOBY is an amazing experience," says Petersen. "HOBY makes sure people are getting something out of the program. Since being a student in their program I had always wanted to come back to be a part of it, so I volunteered. This past year, when we came to NAU, it turned out really well. We implemented a new national program and it turned out great."
As an undergraduate student, Petersen found the education and training he needed to succeed as an archeologist. An anthropology major on academic scholarship, Petersen participated in excavating Elden Pueblo and helped with Introduction to Archeology classes. Before he graduated, Petersen's advisor gave him a big career boost by directing the aspiring archaeologist to an expanding area of the field.
"NAU's program perfectly prepared me for my career," he says. "It is an excellent program with a focus on cultural resource management (CRM), which prepares students for roles like being a consultant or working as a project manager. So my coursework really helped prepare me well for how exactly things work in CRM."
As he reflects back on his time in Flagstaff, Petersen says he enjoyed his university experiences and particularly liked seeing basketball games in the intimate setting that the Walkup Skydome provides. He advises current students, however, to get involved in university life. The rewards, he says, are worth it.
"My advice to students would be to get out there. There's a lot to do in Flagstaff and at NAU," he says. "I was a little too focused on academia, which is not a bad thing. But there's so much more to college than just the education. You have an amazing opportunity to get a balanced experience at NAU."