Reaching for the Sky

Cat Burleaud's office is Mount Rainier National Park -- and her education at UNT helped her get there.
Written by: 
Jessica DeLeĆ³n
Cat Burleaud
Cat Burleaud ('19)

When Cat Burleaud ('19) googled a list of careers as a student at UNT, it pointed her in the direction of the National Park Service.

Burleaud started out as an English major, but then realized she wanted to take a different path for her career.

"I didn't want to be inside all the time," she says. "I wanted to help people. I wanted to work with all ages."

Being a park ranger seemed like the best fit. Burleaud switched her major to recreation, event and sports management and, thanks to an internship she found online, she now works as a park guide for Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state, where she spends her time showing tourists the land that includes an active volcano, wildflower meadows and plenty of hiking trails.

But she's most fulfilled when she's talking to groups in the evening, after the sun has set and the stars and galaxies are shining.

"That's my favorite part of it -- the feeling people get about the night sky," she says. "We have people who have never seen the Milky Way before. The look of wonder or astonishment -- it's one of the best feelings and it affirms what we're doing out there."

Learning by Doing

Burleaud credits her own education for taking her there. At UNT, she most enjoyed classes with College of Education principal lecturer Joseph Thomas Walker, who made sure students were prepared for their careers and got real world experience.

In one class, Burleaud and her classmates helped manage a high school basketball tournament at the Super Pit. He had them go over every step -- documenting equipment, preparing space and contacting people.

Burleaud also worked with UNT's astronomy teams, serving as a lab assistant for the Rafes Urban Astronomy Center's planetarium and Monroe Remote Observatory. She helped run the Star Parties on Saturdays, showed telescopes and narrated star talks.

As a seasonal clerk at Ray Roberts Lake State Park's Isle Du Bois location, Burleaud collected entrance fees and helped campers find sites. She also volunteered with an interpreter during guided walks and night skies events.

"I learned so much from both of those experiences," Burleaud says. "Astronomy at UNT gave me the opportunity to learn about and operate telescopes as well as learn the night sky and how to interpret it for individuals as well as crowds. Ray Roberts gave me insight into the world of park operations and helped guide me in finding the areas of park service I wanted to serve in."

'Beautiful, Amazing Places'

In 2019, during her last semester at UNT, she earned a night skies internship with Conservation Legacy, a nonprofit organization that benefits NPS, that brought her to Mount Rainer. The internship led to a full-time job.

Her "office" is filled with greenery, with trails and hills in an area that receives nine months of snow and, she quips, "three months of summer, spring and fall."

Summer is hectic with visitors streaming in. She spends time at the information desk, guiding tourists to trails and swearing children into the Junior Ranger program. She serves as lead for the astronomy team, presenting educational programs and giving talks on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Burleaud loves educating people about conservation.

"This country is so beautiful and there's so many beautiful, amazing places," she says.

But the challenge comes when visitors unintentionally cause damage to the land, such as stepping on fragile wildflower meadow that can take 100 years to regrow. Park staffers try to give the visitors as much information as possible to help them make responsible decisions.

"My goals are to do all that I can to make this a better place," she says. "I want to bring more education, more excitement to the park. I still have a lot of work to do. I'm just excited to build more with my team and getting to do all that I can."