Charlie Venuto is a part-time professor of Ecological science at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) School at APUS. In addition, Charlie is the Director of Environmental, Health and Safety Programs in Delaware North Companies in the Kennedy Space Center Visitors’ Center in Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
In a recent interview, Charlie provided insights on his environmental work. He also shared the story of his APUS study grants and the way he used them to highlight the work of Allan and Helen Cruickshank, influential figures in the environmental movement.
What inspired you to go into the field of environmental science?
I was raised in Niagara Falls, New York. As soon as I was growing up during the late 1970s, I heard about the Love Canal contamination crisis, which was not far away from me. Hundreds of families moved from the area. That event inspired me to find out about environmental science.
In addition, I developed a love of the outside as my grandfather loved the Appalachians. We’d frequently go on searching and trekking excursions. He also loved to plant trees for future generations to enjoy.
How can you get your job operating in the Kennedy Space Center?
I had been taking a graduate course in school. My teacher worked at the Kennedy Space Center and told me that there was a work there. I started in 1981 and I’ve been here ever since. The Visitors’ Center is a part museum and part playground, and I love to see launches when they occur.
Tell us about your research project involving the Cruickshanks and also their impact on the environmental movement.
Allan Cruickshank was a National Audubon Society photographer, scientist, lecturer and writer who published a few books and field guides together with his wife, Helen. They moved to Florida in 1952.
He taught around the USA and Canada about wildlife and birds. Allan sought to teach people and build a foundation for them to protect the environment and enjoy conservation. Allan transformed nature and bird watching out of a fringe interest to a favorite national pastime.
Allan would tell people,”I am here to teach, not preach.” The work from Allan and Helen would finally serve part of the basis for the modern-day ecological movement.
In 2011, I began a research project celebrating the semicentennial of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in this area. The Kennedy Space Center is actually located in the middle of the refuge. This is a unique juxtaposition of nature and technology. I also received a grant in APUS to research the way Allan’s work and the Kennedy administration’s dedication to conservation affected the introduction of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
During 2015, I obtained the following APUS grant. It enabled me to see the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York, in Addition to the University of Florida National History Museum archives. I found correspondence involving Roger Peterson along with the Cruickshanks, as well as personal diaries kept by Allan and Helen. There was also a movie documenting the very first National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count in Merritt Island, which had been an exciting find.
NASA utilizes about 7,000 acres for space operations and the other 130,000 acres serve as a buffer in the case of an unplanned rocket event. Allan worked with NASA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to preserve the unused land. That property became the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
What’s been your biggest professional challenge?
My biggest professional challenge has been to develop the right type of policies and procedures to guarantee compliance with environmental regulations. A cultural shift is needed — people need to change their behaviour and reduce their carbon footprint.
We are always seeking improvements. For example, we recently bought a digester for food waste to reduce the need for that waste to go to a landfill.
What advice do you give to someone looking to get into environmental science for a career?
I’d advise anyone who seeks a career in environmental science to get the proper level. Classes such as chemistry and physics may not be fun, but they’re significant in this field.
There are various career options in ecological science. You can look for a desk job or a field occupation. You also need to love to be outdoors and appreciate nature.
What branches of ecological science do you feel have the best chances?
Currently, compliance offers the most career opportunities. Sustainability is important to many large organizations and there are also global jobs available.