Fred Sheppard - Visitor Experience Product Development Officer

Fred Sheppard

Visitor Experience Product Development Officer, Parks Canada.

I was born/grew up in: Cormack, NL

I now live in: Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba

I completed my training/education at: at B.Ed. (Memorial University) MA (Royal Roads University)

Describe what you do at work.

I spend a lot of my time answering calls and emails. This is part of keeping connected to a community of visitor experience dreamers and doers. On the Tech side, I use various social media platforms to promote programs and activities in our National Parks and National historic sites. I work with a team using Mobile apps, GIS, drones to study wildlife movements and collect data on human use patterns in our parks. We collaborate with each other on various projects and work with different teams and partners across the country. Sometimes the decisions are made by me, sometimes they are made for me. That`s the way it goes. We consult inside and outside the Agency in the decision making process because, as Public Servants, we are accountable to all Canadians. I’m really proud of the people I work with. They challenge me to think strategically about what visitors seek, how they use our parks and sites, and how we can stay relevant to our audiences.

No days are the same. I work on programs and experiences related to Interpretation. For example I’ve worked on programs to inform visitors about Historic Chocolate, Historic Weapons, and Historic Booze. Yes, I know, who knew that was a thing! But each one of those programs has some great stories to share with Canadians. They also offer some fantastic opportunities that’ll make visitors want to share those stories. And this is the catalyst to make them want to visit and explore other sites. Our goal is to better understand visitors’ wants and needs and then address those wants and needs through the various programs and activities we offer. We base on decisions on social science research, surveys, and consulting. We also do it by talking to Canadians who visit our places and asking questions to those who don’t. So really, I’m a social scientist. Social science helps us make informed decisions. So much of visitor experience planning is talking, but the biggest part is listening. Sometimes you hear the things you don’t want to hear, but you use that so you can be better at what you do.

When I was a student I enjoyed:

How does your job affect people’s lives?

My career matters because I help create the space where visitors can make stronger connections to our natural and cultural heritage. Here, they are encouraged to get outside and enjoy and embrace the beauty, wonder, and stories of our national parks and national historic sites. Visitors can see, feel, and hear the stories of our land and of our people. They also get to experience first-hand how our history defines us as Canadians.

What motivates you in your career?

I am lucky. I get to travel to some of the most spectacular places in our country. I also get to work with passionate people who love natural and cultural history; people who want to share their knowledge and experience with the world. How excellent is that? I get to take chances with ideas and create experiences that will be meaningful to visitors. I’m given the creative space to try AND to fail. That’s an important piece of the puzzle; trying and failing, and trying again. Not everything is coming up Saturn. What does that even mean? Well, this summer I went to a program where they set up telescopes and you got to look at the night sky. I saw the Rings of Saturn!!! It was so mind-blowingly fantastic, and surreal, and beautiful; it changed my life. It has become my benchmark for excellence. In other words, will an experience bring me close to the Rings of Saturn, will it reveal something new, will it make me ask questions, and think bigger about the place I am in? In my career, I’m striving to see and bring the Rings of Saturn to visitors. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.

When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:

Describe your career path to this career.

Here`s my job arc- Farm Labourer, Cattle Ranch worker, Day Care Worker, Science Centre Educator, TV host, Elementary School Teacher, Substitute Teacher, National Park Interpreter, Outreach Education Officer/ Viking Re-enactor, Visitor Experience Product Development Officer. I did my Bachelor of Education at Memorial University of Newfoundland and then 15 years later, went back to school for a Master of Arts in Environmental Education and Communication from Royal Roads University, Victoria B.C. I had no idea this was where I was gonna land. My three bits of advice are: be open to possibilities, surround yourself with positive people, and find a couple of mentors, they can be older, they should also be younger. I’ve learned some valuable lessons listening to advice from colleagues younger than me. If you see yourself as a student, and are constantly wanting to learn and share and experience new things, whatever career you choose, you’ll be best kind.

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

I devote almost all my free time to my family, encouraging them to join me on adventures that involve festivals of all sorts, live-theatre, concerts, and outdoor adventures that involve paddling, peddling, hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting.

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

Do something you love and be open and willing to change, to find that sweet spot between possibility and opportunity. Keep an open mind, it`s not always going to be historic chocolate and booze. And you’re not always going to see Saturn. Sometimes lead, and sometimes follow. Practice being a good follower.

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