Girl Scouts Set Me on the Path to Being a Naturalist

On Becoming a Naturalist

Dr. Terri Jump

Dr. Terri Jump, 67, joined Girl Scouts as a Brownie in Indianapolis and stayed involved through high school. Without that experience, she might not be a naturalist today, she says.

“Girl Scouts really opened the door to learning about nature because I went to Girl Scout camp every summer. There, I learned to sail and became a lifeguard, and it helped me connect to the natural world,” she explains.

“When I was growing up, it was a much more traditional time for girls,” she says. “I was the only girl in the science fair at school. Now, I am a volunteer boat captain in the Everglades. There are 75 captains in my area, and only five are women. Girl Scouts helped prepare me for that.”

Terri remembers selling cookies and earning badges as a Girl Scout, but it might have been her troop’s camping trip in Florida that had the biggest impact on her life.

Today, as a conservationist boat captain in the Everglades, Terri takes passengers on cruises to see manatees and crocodiles. She also provides aid to the loggerhead turtles she encounters in the subtropical wetlands.

“I’m doing more work in Southwest Florida, where our ecosystem is in peril. We have sea-level rising and climate change, and overdevelopment, too,” she says. “My goal is to reconnect people to nature, so I want to find a way for people to fall in love with a loggerhead, a mangrove, an osprey. What you love you will learn to understand and you will advocate for.”

That love of nature took root on that camping trip as well as at Girl Scout camp, and it has been a part of her career from the start, since she was an elementary school teacher with a strong focus on science.

“Science wasn’t really taught as its own subject then; the focus was on reading, writing, and arithmetic,” she explains. “Later, when I was an elementary school principal, I also taught fifth-grade science.”

Terri earned her master’s degree and left teaching to work on earning her doctorate, and then she launched a private consulting firm in school grant writing to promote girls in math, science and STEM. She served as a consultant for three decades, and now, as she nears retirement, increasingly does more volunteer work.

A couple years ago, she partnered with Homeward Bound, an organization whose vision is, over a 10-year period, to take 1,000 women in STEM from all over the globe on an intensive year-long virtual leadership program that culminates in Antarctica.

On her Homeward Bound expedition, she traveled on a ship with women from 33 different countries for three weeks, where she focused on international leadership and learned about team building, collaboration, and communication in science.

The group included an astronaut, geologists, chemists, physicists, academics, wildlife ecologists, epidemiologists, surgeons, medical doctors, and experts in farm sustainability and food production. The trip was open to “anyone whose work is impacted by climate change,” she recalls.

“This was the largest scientific expedition to ever go to Antarctica, and it was all women,” she adds. “Only 11 of the 100 women in my cohort were Americans, and all but two were Girl Scouts.”

On the trip, Terri and the other women learned how much they all have in common, regardless of their field or home country.

“We struggle—all of us—with imposter syndrome and not always speaking up and not wanting to be visible. And when we do speak up, we all struggle with not being heard,” she explains. “We need to be bold, and that’s part of our ongoing support for each other. We stand up for each other.”

“Our tagline in Homeward Bound is ‘Mother Nature needs her daughters.’ We need more women at the table to help solve these global crises. We know STEM offers good opportunities for women. Women in STEM earn 26 percent more than those in non-STEM fields, and there are enormous leadership opportunities there. It’s important for women to know that our work can be connected to a purpose and that we can make a difference.”

Since returning home from Antarctica, Terri keeps in touch with her cohorts from the trip, and she’s writing a children’s book with some of her teammates.

“I came home from Homeward Bound more committed to doing whatever I can to saving the Everglades and to helping people become more invested in saving the environment,” she says. “I am more connected than ever to making a difference for our girls and for our planet.”