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District professionals in STEM careers

Deb Stone:
Love of outdoors led to life’s work

Deb Stone leads the charge against invading marauders lurking in some of Florida’s most scenic places and she couldn’t be happier.

Stone is an Invasive Plant Program Supervisor with the St. Johns River Water Management District. Her crew is responsible for controlling invasive species on approximately 200,000 acres of district-managed lands in all or part of 12 counties and, as she puts it, “we cover a very wide geographic range and a host of invasive species.”

Stone says her decision to follow a career path in a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field was a natural outgrowth of her passion for outdoor activities.

“My family did a lot of outdoor activities like camping, hiking and biking, plus I was a Girl Scout through middle school,” she says. “I always loved being in nature and knew I wanted to work in it somehow but wasn’t sure quite how.”

While earning a bachelor of science degree at the University of South Florida, Stone says she became interested in ecology, but it wasn’t until “my rare plant internship at Bok Tower Gardens that I found my true passion and calling in land management. Poor habitat management is one of the biggest threats to threatened and endangered species, second to habitat loss. Finding the best ways to manage habitat, protect these species, restore natural ecosystems and watch them flourish has been my goal ever since.”

Stone, who joined the district in 2014, says there’s no such thing as a typical work day, which is part of the reason she loves her job.

“My days are usually split between office days and field days,” Stone says. “Office days may sometimes center around tasks such as monthly reports and budgets, but there are also neat projects like the new invasive geodatabase I have been designing, or planning large-scale invasive/restoration projects. Field days can mean site visits riding roads and fire lines in a truck or on an ATV, hiking through a swamp, or aerial surveys in a helicopter.”

Stone, who is currently working on a master of science degree in forest resources and conservation at the University of Florida, takes pride in her accomplishments at the district. She feels like she’s making a difference in a tangible way.

“Seeing degraded habitat turn into a beautiful natural system is incredibly gratifying,” Stone says. “It can take several years to begin to see the fruits of our labor, but even in just two years at the district I’m already seeing improvement at some of the first projects I had a hand in.”

Stone recommends that young women considering STEM careers get field experience in anything that remotely interests them and find mentors.

“I have had two exceptional mentors in my career,” Stone says. “The first I met while an intern, who inspired me to go into land management and put up with my endless questions. Her knowledge and experience in all things vegetation — rare plants, invasive plants, fire, restoration — was an awesome resource for a newbie. She’s one of my best friends today and is still a mentor. Later in my career, I had a mentor who helped me really hone my focus career-wise and work to prepare me for a larger role where I could have a bigger impact in the Florida landscape. She is still a friend and a colleague as well.”

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St. Johns River Water Management District
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