April 2023 Spotlight Professional

Gina G. Austin –  City of Bellingham, WA

Describe the scope of your position in parks and recreation.

I am a project engineer with the City of Bellingham Parks & Recreation Department. I work in the Design and Development Division where we manage design standards, capital park projects, and development reviews. From initial funding and concept design to construction and maintenance, it’s never a dull moment! 

How long have you been with your present agency?

I have worked in Parks at the City of Bellingham for over 20 years and every day is a new adventure. 

What did you do before your previous role? (Background experience and previous careers)

Prior to working for Bellingham Parks, I worked as a structural engineer for a private consulting firm in Seattle – the same firm that designed the Space Needle! I also worked for a general contractor in the Seattle area and I worked for a seismic testing and applied research laboratory in Portland. 

How have you participated in WRPA?

I have participated in WRPA as a conference attendee and speaker.

What inspires you about the parks and recreation field?

The power of Parks inspires me every day. The parks and recreation field impacts people’s lives everyday through design, creation and maintaining places for everyone to actively play, escape, or find respite. I am in awe of what people can create and how we can positively empower people’s lives in a big way. When I visit parks, I am awe struck by the designer’s imagination and am also surprised by the creativity of our park program specialist and camp leaders. It’s not unusual to hear me say out loud, “How did they think of that?” or “Well done!” 

What is one creative solution you and your team have applied to a professional challenge?

Sometimes the answer is “sleep on it,” meaning, give it some time and space before attempting to solve a challenge. What did we forget? What does your gut tell you? Sometimes solutions take time. Creative solutions can also come from a decision-making matrix. Get out the good old piece of paper and pencil and draw a table, jot down what is important and give each item a plus or minus score. Add the scoring up and you’d be surprised how the answer to the challenge will show itself. 

Considering what you’ve learned throughout your career, what advice would you share with someone starting out in the parks and recreation field?

My advice to someone starting out in the parks and recreation field is summed up in one word: patience. Take the time to listen and don’t shy away from new challenges. Embrace them! Think to yourself, what can I do to make the world a better place? Plant the seed, take the opportunity to meet new people, always sign up for training events, get out there and volunteer, sign up to be a speaker at an event, share your experiences, and learn from others. Never shy away from an idea and get comfortable with both the wins and the losses. Losses can be an important part of the learning process. It’s ok to change course and adapt. 

What is one of your favorite moments as a parks and recreation professional?  What was your job title?

My favorite moment as a park and recreation professional is being at a new park development and hearing someone comment on how much they enjoy the space. Whether it was a project that I managed or maybe it was someone else lead the effort, I am honored to be part of projects that help people enjoy a new experience. Parks can heal. Parks can be therapy. Parks are everything!