These days, Andrea Faas doesn’t get out of the office much. She has emails to answer, phone calls to make, programs to coordinate and a whole stack of paperwork she needs to tackle.
It’s funny, she said, because her work is to encourage people to do the exact opposite of what she does all day.
But when she does get a chance to escape her work, Andrea leaves her office and walks.
Her office is located on a wildlife preserve that’s surrounded by native grasses, nearly 9 miles of trails, Nebraska wildlife and a pond.
It’s in this kind of setting where Andrea said she can breathe deepest and just be. Nature has always been a place where she’s found comfort, freedom and strength – it’s personal for Andrea and has been a strong theme in her story for as long as she can remember.
As a kid, Andrea was digging in her backyard, poking at bugs and splashing around in the creek behind her house. Her childhood was about discovery and adventure, and so much of that shaped her desire to learn more.
When she was 12 years old, she and a friend biked across the state of Iowa. It was exhilarating and challenging, and she remembers thinking, “I did that?! I can do anything!”
It was an empowering moment for a young girl, and Andrea said she knew then that she could take on new challenges, have adventures and survive to tell about them.
In high school, a school counselor encouraged Andrea to do some volunteer work. Andrea saw an opportunity at Fontenelle Forest in Omaha where she was tasked with caring for mice. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was her first step toward a career.
Andrea moved up from caring for mice to feeding them to snakes and then helping out with summer camps. When it came time for college she tried out UNL and UNO before transferring to the University of Minnesota.
During school Andrea chose to study abroad in Ecuador for a year, adding yet another level of adventure to her experiences. She lived with a host family, worked at a biological research station, learned with researchers from around the world and worked with local farmers.
Andrea said she remembers trying to soak up as much information as she could about the culture and the natural resources in her new home.
When she returned to school after studying abroad, Andrea knew she needed a hands-on job after she graduated. She was offered a position at Fontenelle Forest and eagerly jumped in to work.
But Andrea was always on the lookout for her next adventure. After a few years in Omaha she packed her bags and drove out to California to work at a few schools in and around Yosemite. It was an amazing opportunity with gorgeous scenery and so much to learn and teach.
People would often ask where she was from and when she said Nebraska they’d say, “What’s in Nebraska?!??!”
Sure, Andrea thought, Nebraska didn’t have the ocean or mountains, but there was something about the expansive plains and awe-inspiring Nebraska sunsets that she missed in California. Plus, she missed her family, so after a two years she made the trek back home.
Andrea took a job with Nebraska Game and Parks and logged thousands of miles across the state. She saw places and people, natural sites and one-of-a-kind species that all contributed to the beauty of Nebraska.
She also put down some roots of her own, getting married and then having two children. Her family moved to Lincoln when she heard about a job opening at the Pioneers Park Nature Center, and a few years later she was named the Center’s Coordinator.
This has been Andrea’s first ‘office’ job. It’s different than working in the field, and yet, it’s her position that encourages people to get out and explore. It’s a job that’s less about the building she’s in and more about the land and environment that surrounds her building, and that’s what she loves.
Andrea said a lot of kids love the outdoors, but they often grow out of it as adults. For her, it just stuck. It’s been a consistent and familiar theme in her life, and it’s also an appreciation she hopes to instill in her children and anyone who visits the Nature Center.
“You don’t have to understand everything you see here,” she said. “You just have to get out and experience it.”
That’s why Andrea gets out of the office whenever she can to walk. Whether it’s a 30-minute hike or just a few minutes taking deep breathes, nature is where Andrea feels the most like herself. It’s her therapy, her friend and her story – and now, it’s what she shares with her community.