Two baby squirrels changed Diane Nickerson’s life by showing her the path to her true career passion—but not before she invested years in a job she didn’t enjoy.
After graduating from Temple University in the 1970s with a degree in business administration, marketing and management, Diane went on to become a territorial manager for an insurance company. She stayed in that career, moving from company to company. It was a solid living for a business major—but none too exciting. “Many weeks that I worked in insurance I couldn’t wait until Friday and I cried on Saturday night because it was almost time to go back to work,” recalls Diane. “I only went to school for business because that’s what you did back then. I hated college so much that I finished it in three years instead of four.”
Then in 1986, Diane found two baby squirrels in her yard in Bucks County and ended up taking them to The Aark, a wildlife rehabilitation center in Chalfont, PA. Always an animal lover, Diane quickly took to the rehab center’s work and mission. “I started volunteering at The Aark and six months later quit my job,” says Diane, who had always wanted to go to veterinary school but never had the motivation to follow through. “I worked out a deal with the director there that if I could bring in income doing wildlife education programs, then she’d pay me a salary.” Diane visited other wildlife rehab centers in the area to learn all she could about their education programs and was soon running a successful one for The Aark.
For Diane, it was the start of a new and exciting adventure. After giving a talk at Burlington County College on raising songbirds, she was told that the Mercer County Wildlife Center in Titusville, which cares for injured, ill and displaced native wildlife and then releases them back into an appropriate wild habitat, was looking for a director. She interviewed for the position and got the job, tackling a new challenge of running a nonprofit wildlife rehab center that combined both her business expertise and her love of animals. “Even a bad day here is good,” says Diane, who manages a staff that includes some 100 volunteers and orchestrates the center’s 200 educational outreach programs annually. “It took me until I was 35 years old to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, but I’m so happy to have made the switch.”
Diane adds that careers in wildlife rehab are far from lucrative. “Just last year I hit the amount of money I was making when I left insurance,” she explains. But for her, fulfillment trumps big bucks—especially when it comes to her passion for animal education. “That is where we’re making the biggest difference, educating people about wildlife. A lot of our patients come to us because they’ve run into people in some way. We try to teach people how to coexist with animals.”
To find out more about the Mercer County Wildlife Center, go to http://www.state.nj.us/counties/mercer/community/wildlife/.